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How to Solve the Debt-Ceiling Crisis Forever

How to Solve the Debt-Ceiling Crisis Forever
Photograph by Max Oppenheim/Getty Images

At its heart, the increasingly scary impasse over raising the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling is about House Speaker John Boehner’s determination to use the prospect of default as leverage to secure Republican policy victories and President Obama’s determination to avoid a precedent-setting submission to those demands that would severely weaken future presidents. There is, however, a potential solution that would not only avert a catastrophic default and let both sides save face, but would also eliminate such threats in the future.

Most of the history of past shutdowns and near-defaults dredged up to lend perspective to the current crisis focuses on how common these events were in the past. But for more than a decade, in the 1980s and early ’90s, the default threat was basically eliminated. The trick was doing away with the bizarre two-step process by which the U.S. government budgets and then spends money.