Breaking (Down) the Debt Ceiling

In the Public Interest

Sep 13 2023 • 29 mins

Since 1960, Congress has raised, revised or extended the statutory debt ceiling 79 times. The United States reached its debt ceiling in January 2023, prompting a congressional showdown and sparking fears of extreme market volatility and a global recession if the US were to default on its legal obligations. The 2023 debt ceiling crisis ended in June, when President Biden signed legislation that suspended the debt ceiling in exchange for budget cuts.

In an interview recorded shortly after Congress reached a deal to suspend the debt ceiling, co-host John Walsh speaks with Senior Counsel Eric Lesser about the circumstances and details of the debt ceiling standoff. Lesser was a White House Aide from 2009 to 2011 and witnessed the buildup to the 2011 debt ceiling crisis firsthand. He also served four terms in the Massachusetts State Senate and was a consultant for seven seasons of the hit HBO comedy Veep. As a Senior Counsel at WilmerHale, Lesser advises clients on a wide range of complex, government-facing matters.

Walsh and Lesser discuss the history of the debt ceiling and the run-up to the debt ceiling fight in 2011. They talk about the individual players at the center of the most recent debt ceiling standoff and what these episodes can teach us about the state of American politics today. Lesser also reflects on his role in Veep and his perspective on the political brinksmanship displayed in the debt ceiling negotiations.

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