Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Debt Ceiling Crisis, One Year Later


It may seem like the distant past, but only one year ago the United States--and the world--were on the brink of economic catastrophe due to a remarkable episode of hostage-taking by congressional Republicans, who refused to raise the debt ceiling unless President Obama capitulated to their demands. The debt ceiling crisis of 2011 culminated in fevered last-minute negotiations in July 2011 leading to the Budget Control Act of 2011, signed on August 2nd.

Over at the Atlantic, I have an essay discussing the history of the debt ceiling crisis, the constitutional arguments raised, and the larger political meaning of the struggle.

The debt ceiling crisis was an attempt to stage a political revolution with control of only one House of Congress. It ultimately fell short, and damaged the economic recovery in the process. Generally speaking, political movements usually do not succeed in making significant changes in governance unless they also control the presidency. That is one reason why an earlier attempt, the Gingrich revolution, also failed. To be sure, both the Gingrich revolution and the debt ceiling crisis had important effects, but they did not produce the lasting changes in American politics that Republicans had hoped for.

For this reason, the key issues in the debt ceiling crisis will be fought out again after the election, and, depending on who wins the Presidency, the Republicans will either complete their revolution or they will once again be frustrated, as they were in 1995.

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