Few spectacles illustrated the dysfunction of Beltway politics better than the summer stalemate over the U.S. debt ceiling a legal cap set on the funds the federal government borrows to pay its bills. The U.S. debt, for a host of reasons, has ballooned over the decades; Congress has raised the debt ceiling without a fuss in 72 prior instances, including ten times in the past decade. Yet the Republicans saw opportunity with this vote to play a political card and push for dramatic spending cuts GOP Senator Mitch McConnell said the American economy was "a hostage worth ransoming." As the surreal prospect of the U.S. defaulting on its massive national debt neared, frantic, fitful backroom attempts to broker peace between the administration and Republicans appeared to go nowhere until President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner emerged July 31 with a deal that called for major spending cuts over the next 10 years. Still, nobody came up smelling of roses from this fight just days later, credit agency Standard & Poor's downgraded the U.S. credit rating, a dramatic blow for what is still the world's largest economy, and opinion polls showed a drop in popularity for the conservative Tea Party, the bloc most keen to make political hay of the proceedings.