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President Obama summoned the top four congressional leaders to the White House on Saturday morning, July 23, 2011. The night before, House Speaker John A. Boehner had withdrawn from negotiations to raise the $14 trillion federal debt limit and save the government from a catastrophic default. “Nobody wanted to be there,” Boehner later recalled. “The president’s still pissed.”
They had about 10 days left before the government would run out of money. Given the global importance of U.S. Treasury securities, failing to extend the debt limit could trigger a worldwide economic meltdown.
Geithner thought there was one other consideration. He did not mention it to anyone, not even the president, but he had thought about it a great deal. It was not just that Obama faced an economic choice or a political choice. He faced a moral choice.
The president should not put himself in the position of saying unequivocally that he would veto, Geithner concluded, for one simple reason: No one could be sure how to put the American or the global economy back together again. The impact would be calamitous.
“And the people who would bear the pain of that would be the people less prepared,” Geithner told others, “less able to absorb that cost. It would be something you could not cure. It is not something you can come back and say, a week later, ‘Oh, we fixed it.’ It would be indelible, incurable. It would last for generations.”
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