Repudiating the Debt

In the spring of 1981, conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives cried.  They cried because, in the first flush of the Reagan Revolution that was supposed to bring drastic cuts in taxes and government spending, as well as a balanced budget, they were being asked by the White House and their own leadership to vote for an increase in the statutory limit on the federal public debt, which was then scraping the legal ceiling of one trillion dollars.  They cried because all of their lives they had voted against an increase in public debt, and now they were being asked, by their own party and their own movement, to violate their lifelong principles.  The White House and its leadership assured them that this breach in principle would be their last; that it was necessary for one last increase in the debt limit to give President Reagan a chance to bring about a balanced budget and to begin to reduce the debt.  Many of these Republicans tearfully announced that they were taking this fateful step because they deeply trusted their President, who would not let them down.

Famous last words.  In a sense, the Reagan handlers were right: There were no more tears, no more complaints, because the principles themselves were quickly forgotten, swept into the dustbin of history.  Deficits and the public debt have piled up mountainously since then, and few people care, least...

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