The test comes in the upcoming showdown over raising the federal debt limit, a painful political chore that periodically falls to Congress when the Treasury exhausts the amount of borrowing that lawmakers had previously authorized. Performing it is necessary for government to pay its bills and avert a destabilizing financial crisis.

The White House seeks cooperation from partisan adversaries as well as allies in Congress. So far, Republicans have vowed not to provide any. It’s a credible threat.

The danger represents a relatively recent development in American history. For decades, the statutory requirement that Congress authorize additional borrowing has provided a venue for harmless skirmishes in which the party out of power flays the party in power for irresponsible borrowing.

One example: March 2006, when it was President George W. Bush’s turn to ask Congress for a debt limit increases. First-term Democratic Sen. Barack Obama…

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