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Partisanship charges come easily

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid frequently accused Republicans of playing partisan politics during the debt ceiling crisis.

"The moment for partisan games is long since passed," Reid said July 21. "It is time for patriots on both sides of the aisle to join hands and actually govern."

On July 26, Reid released a statement headlined "REPUBLICANS PUT POLITICS AHEAD OF THE ECONOMY."

And on July 24, Reid cast himself as a bipartisan compromiser, trying to talk sense into his partisan adversaries. "We hope Speaker Boehner will abandon his 'my way or the highway' approach," Reid said, "and join us in forging a bipartisan compromise."

Now, both sides have joined hands and governed. But Reid's words raise a question: What's wrong with partisanship in the debate over the debt ceiling? It's a political dispute, and it hardly seems possible, or perhaps even desirable, to remove partisanship from it.

If you want proof that partisanship is an enduring part of debt ceiling arguments, you need look no farther than the record of Harry Reid himself. Not counting the current standoff, in the last decade the Senate has passed 10 increases to the debt limit. During that time, Reid always voted to raise the debt ceiling when Democrats were in control of the Senate, and never voted to raise the debt ceiling when Republicans were in control.

Some of Reid's colleagues also accuse Republicans of partisanship in the debt fight. "It's time for bipartisan leadership, not partisan gamesmanship," said the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, Richard Durbin, after Republicans pulled out of budget talks with President Obama. And Obama himself described the debt debate as a "partisan three-ring circus" -- leaving no doubt that he considered the Republicans guilty of partisanship.

But a look at Durbin's record shows that he, too, has voted along party lines when it comes to the debt ceiling. In the last decade, Durbin always voted to increase the debt limit when Democrats were in control and never voted to increase the debt limit when

Republicans were in control. Obama was in the Senate for just four votes to raise the debt ceiling. He missed two of them, voted yes once when Democrats were in charge, and voted no once when Republicans were in charge.

Here are the 10 votes to raise the debt ceiling since 2002, according to the Congressional Research Service.

- On June 11, 2002, with the Senate in Democratic hands, Reid and Durbin voted to bring the total national debt to $6.4 trillion.

- On May 23, 2003, with the Senate in Republican hands after the November 2002 midterm elections, Reid and Durbin voted against a bill to raise the debt limit to $7.384 trillion.

- On Nov. 17, 2004, Reid voted "present" and Durbin voted against a bill to bring the total debt to $8.184 trillion.

- On March 16, 2006, Reid, Durbin and Obama voted against a bill to bring the total debt to $8.965 trillion.

- On Sept. 27, 2007, with the Senate back in Democratic hands, Reid and Durbin voted to increase the national debt to $9.815 trillion. Obama, running for president, did not vote.

- On July 26, 2008, Reid and Durbin voted to increase the national debt to $10.615 trillion. Obama did not vote.

- On Oct. 1, 2008, Reid, Durbin and Obama voted to increase the national debt to $11.315 trillion.

- On Feb. 13, 2009, Reid and Durbin voted to increase the national debt to $12.104 trillion.

- On Dec. 24, 2009, Reid and Durbin voted to increase the national debt to $12.394 trillion.

- On Jan. 28, 2010, Reid and Durbin voted to increase the national debt to $14.294 trillion.

The point of this is not to show that Reid and Durbin are uniquely partisan, although the partisan pattern of their votes is unmistakable.

Others are partisan, too; until the new debt deal, the Senate GOP leader, Mitch McConnell, voted to increase the debt limit when Republican George W. Bush was president and against increasing the debt limit when Democrat Barack Obama was president. The point is that leaders who have voted along strictly partisan lines might want to think twice before denouncing others as partisan.