The history of the debt ceiling is a little bit like a piece of classical music. It starts out softly. Kind of like one of Richard Wagner’s operas.
Congress used to approve borrowing – project by project.
“Wars or projects like canal building and expansion of the navy, etcetera," says Fred Beuttler, a congressional historian at Carroll University.
He says eventually that incremental budgeting got too cumbersome. So the modern debt ceiling was born in the 1930s.
And then the tempo of our debt ceiling ditty changes. Debt limit votes become a verdict on overall federal spending.
“It’s really like a stick that Congress uses to beat up on the executive with," says Joseph Thorndike, a historian with Tax Analysts. "And who doesn’t like to have a stick?”
The debt ceiling debate first crescendoed in the 1940s and 50s. As Congress faced off with presidents Roosevelt, and Eisenhower. There were debt ceiling fights in the 90s. But the most serious threat of actual default came in 2011.
That’s where Mark Patterson enters the picture. He was Treasury chief of staff from 2009 until just last May. He blames the crescendo of debt ceiling rhetoric on the polarization of the country as a whole. He can’t even remember how many debt ceiling cliff hangers there were while he was at Treasury.
He says, “They are something of a blur to me at this point but we had about a half a dozen of them during the time that I was there.”
I want to jog Patterson’s memory. So I persuade him to brave the cold and take a brisk walk to the Treasury building. Patterson remembers 16 hour days. And lots of takeout food.
“By the time it gets there it’s always cold though, because the secret Service guards our building," he says.
I ask Patterson where we are now in our musical debt ceiling journey. Patterson says we’re in an interlude. He hopes we won’t get so close to defaulting again. Whatever happens, he says, we’ll survive. He remembers thinking that on the darkest days of previous debt debates. As he left the Treasury building late at night.
“We’ve gotten through worse than this and hopefully these debt limit crises will subside into history, too, he says. "At least that’s what I’d try to tell myself at night as I got in the car to drive home.”
Then, for further inspiration, Patterson would crank up his favorite debt ceiling musician. Not Wagner - Jimi Hendrix.
Some of the newer high-valued companies in Silicon Valley these days are more focused on sharing with your business partners than sharing with your friends. Example: Box helps people and businesses share documents and other data on the cloud. And the young company privately filed for an IPO a few days ago. Eric Schurenberg, editor in chief of Inc Magazine, joined us to help explain.
Click play on the audio player above for the interview.
The game didn't go as predicted, but the ad war did. For the second year in a row, Bud won over viewers, using a cute puppy and photogenic Clydesdales to sell beer.
Today Facebook releases a new mobile application called Paper. It doesn't really look a lot like Mark Zuckerberg's crowded, blue social network. But, it is part of his empire, and it might help the company keep building engagement by not looking like ... Facebook.
Slate Tech blogger Will Oremus has been reporting on the app and joined us to tell us more.
"This is a really slick-looking app that Facebook just introduced today," says Oremus, "It's a new way to read Facebook, combined with a sort of news reader."
Paper should help filter out much of the distractions found on the main Facebook service: "It's trying to appeal to the people who want less of the random updates about their friends cats and babies, and maybe more of what their friends are talking about that's in the news or what's happening today that's in their area of interest," Oremus says.
With Paper, Facebook is showing that it recognizes that a portion of its userbase is becoming tired of its flagship social network, and the new app is just the latest alternative the company is offering to the original service.
"They've already got Instagram, and they've kept that as a separate entity," says Oremus, "They've built Facebook Messenger, and now they've got Paper, and Mark Zuckerberg on an earnings call that there will be more in store in the years to come."
And speaking of earnings, Facebook has been exceeding expectations recently, thanks to their ability to draw in advertisers and to get users to click those ads. The obvious implication for Paper is its potential as yet another advertising platform.