Of course, the main difference is, Obama wanted the showdown to rationalize his much-desired Grand Bargain on Social Security and Medicare! Jonathan Chait:
If you haven’t already read Kara Brandeisky’s story about how the Clinton administration handled the debt ceiling in 1995, you should definitely do it. As she notes, the circumstances were different in 1995. Republicans were somewhat less fixated on the debt ceiling, and also somewhat less destructive and crazy. But they weren’t that much less destructive and crazy:
“Nobody should assume we’re going to have a debt-limit extension,” John Boehner warned. “If the vote were held today, it would not pass.” Sound familiar? This was Boehner in November of 1995, when he was the House Republican Conference chairman and his party was refusing to raise the debt ceiling unless President Bill Clinton agreed to a package of sweeping spending cuts.
The biggest single difference is that the Clinton administration simply refused on principle to get jacked up on the debt ceiling:
Still, even though Clinton enjoyed political and economic advantages that Obama does not, his no-compromises strategy had some clear advantages. Unlike Obama, he refused to let the threat of default set the national agenda. Because he would not enter into negotiations over the debt ceiling, the issue barely roused the public consciousness. On November 9, 1995, a senior administration official told the Washington Post, “Our position is it does not matter what they put on this legislation, we are not going to accept anything but clean bills because we will not be blackmailed over default. Get it? No extortion. No blackmail. What you hear are their screams of complaint as they realize we are not, not, not budging on this.”
Kind of hard to imagine somebody from this administration talking like that.