Debt Limit Battles, Past and Present

by Reihan Salam

Sean Davis, writing in The Federalist, explores the modern history of debt limit brinkmanship, reminding readers of battles over the debt limit fought in 1953-1954, 1977-1978, and 1990, the last of which he cites as the closest parallel to the current debt limit fight:

As Congress and President Obama come ever closer to bumping up against the debt ceiling (most experts believe Treasury will exhaust its ability to keep debt under the limit sometime in mid-October), many commentators will claim that the brinkmanship over the debt limit is unprecedented and unimaginable. The real truth is that it’s neither.

Congress and the president have fought for decades, regardless of party, over the propriety of raising the debt ceiling. Many lawmakers in years past used the debt limit as a bargaining chip, knowing that holding it up could give them leverage unachievable through other legislative means. That doesn’t mean that a fight this year is necessarily a good idea. But it is helpful to be reminded that this is not the first time our elected officials have pulled out all the stops — including shutdowns or threats of default — to achieve their policy or political goals, nor will it be the last.

Yuval Levin, meanwhile, offers a template for a modest fiscal deal that might allow Republicans and Democrats to save face and that might help alleviate our “horribly daunting medium-term fiscal problem.” 


The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.