Congress last refused to raise the ceiling on the federal debt . . . well, never. There have been a fair number of instances in the past quarter century, though, when lawmakers got right to the brink. As they say, there's always a first time — and the question is whether this year could be it. The answer is, maybe.
That's because a large crop of freshman Republican lawmakers in both the House and Senate were elected on a pledge of fiscal austerity and are clamoring to bar the Treasury from borrowing another dime in excess of the current $14.3 trillion ceiling. They and other fiscal hawks believe they can withhold their vote on increasing the debt limit and leverage it into enactment of an aggressive set of spending controls. Some believe they can even breach the debt ceiling if necessary to achieve their ends.