In 1997 the net seemed to be closing in on the Clinton Administration. Congressional Republicans, pushed along by a gung-ho group of young House members, were refusing to increase the government’s authority to borrow unless the President signed a balanced budget that kept certain programs going. If that threatened a U.S. default, so be it; it was a price worth paying to get Clinton to do the right thing. The very idea made the Clinton Administration squeal: Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin warned in September that failing to raise the limit “could cause profound damage to our country,” as even the possibility of a default would “do permanent damage to our credit standing.”

A look at today’s budgetary madness.
A look at today's budgetary madness.
A look at today’s budgetary madness.

Four months later the debt limit still hasn’t been raised, President Clinton hasn’t signed a balanced budget, and the nation’s credit rating is just fine. As soon as the President vetoed the GOP’s debt-limit bill in mid November, Rubin tapped federal pension funds to cover Treasury’s obligations, a dubious move