What is the debt ceiling?
In simplest terms, it is a cap on the amount of money the federal government can borrow to pay its bills–a credit limit for bill paying. Raising the debt ceiling does NOT authorize more spending. The spending has already been done. The bill has been paid, but the “bank” has only authorized a certain amount that can be borrowed to cover the bills. Eventually, when we reach the limit, nothing more can be paid. Oops! We have a big problem here.
As political science professor Steven Taylor blogged a year ago (http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/what-is-the-debt-ceiling):
Here’s the deal: the spending has already been authorized—the bills are going to come due (bills like, for example, continuing military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya or keeping air traffic controllers in towers and stuff like that). As such, we have to borrow to keep paying the bills.
If you didn’t pay attention to the above paragraph, please go read it again.
In other words: raising the debt ceiling does not authorize mores spending–we have already done that. Borrowing simply allows us to pay for the obligations that have already been made. Voting on the debt ceiling is not voting on the budget.
This is a fact. It may well be an ugly fact, but it remains a fact nonetheless. Not raising the debt ceiling doesn’t make it go away.
Thanks to Prof. Taylor for making it simple. Many, if not most, people do not understand this situation. I know I do not fully understand it, but I think I have a handle on this part. The real problem is not with the debt ceiling but with the budgeting (although it is a symptomatic problem). The USA simply does not live within its means. That’s a leadership problem, not a debt ceiling problem.
Congressional debt ceiling votes have become a very political, as well as fiscal, hot potato. What was once a matter of practicality is now politicized into a campaign issue, albeit, not a very important one. Just like earmarks has become a dirty word, so debt ceiling has entered into those tabu ranks of the uninformed and “mad as h*** and I’m not gonna take it anymore” crowd. To all of those, do me a favor and just calm down and listen up. You are being manipulated when you need to be educated. Yes, we have such terrible fiscal issues that blow the minds of the economists and sometimes pad the pockets of politicians and their pet project managers, but we cannot let our judgment be impaired with the inflammatory rhetoric about them. (There is a difference between the legitimate constitutional earmarking process and the illegitimate “pork barrel spending” that happens, but that’s another subject.) There would be no need for credit limit (debt ceiling) increases if we balanced our budget!! Let’s don’t buy into another political “red herring,” if we had a balanced budget, debt ceilings would be a non-issue.
Know the truth and you will be set free to see the political mudslinging for what it is: cheap rhetoric that plays on people’s emotions, and election year hype to cover up the “slinger’s” lack of character, integrity, and qualifications. Feel free to apply this to any campaign you like. I’ll apply it to the Missouri campaign for U.S. Senate.