Delayed payments in 1979 offer glimpse of default consequences






The Sunday airwaves brimmed once again with talk of what would – or would not – happen if lawmakers fail to meet the Aug. 2 deadline to raise the nation’s legal limit on borrowing. Unmentioned by either side was an obscure bit of budgetary history in which the country did default on some of its bills, and wound up paying the consequences.

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that inaction “would be catastrophic for the economy” and added that “no responsible leader would say the United States of America, for the first time in its history, should not pay its bills, meet its obligations.”...

In fact, there was one short-lived incident in the spring of 1979 that offers a glimpse of some of the problems and costs that might arise if the stalemate on Capitol Hill continues. Then, as now, Congress had been playing a game of chicken with the debt limit, raising it to $830 billion – compared with today’s $14.3 trillion – only after Treasury Secretary W. Michael Blumenthal warned that the country was hours away from the first default in its history....



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