Headline RoundupMay 31st, 2023

How Lessons From 2011 Influenced 2023’s Debt Ceiling Talks

AllSides Summary

It might seem like this year’s debt ceiling politics are unprecedented, but this has happened before — in 2011, under the Obama administration. 

What Happened: As in 2023, the U.S. hit the debt limit in 2011, prompting negotiations between House Republicans and the Obama administration. Then-Vice President Joe Biden, leading the Democratic negotiators, described the initial talks as trading “bicycles” for “golf clubs.” However, lawmakers later struggled to reach a deal, passing a bill less than 72 hours before the U.S. was set to default. As a consequence, S.& P. downgraded its credit rating for long-term federal debt, citing “the gulf between the political parties.” The 2011 deal created a committee to find ways to cut spending beyond what was already agreed upon, but the committee did not accomplish its goal.

Lessons for the Right: In the Washington Examiner (Lean Right bias), a writer from the Bipartisan Policy Center (Not Rated) called 2011 “instructive,” because lawmakers made “modest progress and avoided financial catastrophe.” Economists quoted by Vox (Left bias) said Republicans learned that debt limit talks were “basically the only time” spending cuts and the deficit were discussed.

Lessons for the Left: Citing “a half-dozen current and former advisers,” The New York Times (Lean Left bias) reported that 2011's “bitter compromise” convinced now-President Biden to separate the debt limit from budget negotiations and to not negotiate with a House speaker whose caucus left him “little room to negotiate.”

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