Fights over the debt limit an old story

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The president needed an increase in the federal debt limit. His partisan adversary, a powerful Ohio congressman, wanted something in return: deep spending cuts.

The president was Richard M. Nixon, the congressman was Charles A. Vanik and the year was 1970. Mr. Vanik, a Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, did not win his $6 billion in spending cuts (equivalent to $34 billion today).

But Congress raised the debt limit anyway — as it has 78 times since 1960 in what has become a familiar Washington ritual. This spring, the debt limit has become a burden that

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