In prodding Congress to act swiftly to avoid a government default on its financial obligations, President Obama has Isaac Bassett and a long history of procrastination conspiring against him.

From 1844 until his death in 1895, Bassett, the Senate’s stately assistant doorkeeper, would lift a long pole and turn back the hands of the Senate clock at the close of every annual session, lengthening the official day so lawmakers could finish their work within the prescribed time.

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