Explaining the Debt Ceiling for Dummies – The Republican Edition

debtceilingWords really don’t convey how annoying the “debt ceiling debate” has become for me.  I struggle to even call it a debate because anyone who’s really considering not raising it is a damn fool – and you shouldn’t debate with fools.

I don’t even mind if you want to use the act of raising the debt ceiling as a catalyst to talk about ways we might address our national debt.  We do have to tackle our national debt so that’s a real debate that we can always address.  Granted, Republicans and Democrats almost completely disagree on how to address it, but it’s still a logical debate to have.

But whether or not to raise the debt ceiling isn’t a debate! 

Here’s the official description from the U.S. Department of the Treasury:

The debt limit is the total amount of money that the United States government is authorized to borrow to meet its existing legal obligations, including Social Security and Medicare benefits, military salaries, interest on the national debt, tax refunds, and other payments. The debt limit does not authorize new spending commitments. It simply allows the government to finance existing legal obligations that Congresses and presidents of both parties have made in the past.

It “does not authorize new spending commitments.”

This is something every single Republican in Congress knows.  So when they sit there and repeat their worn out propaganda (which is exactly what it is – blatant propaganda) about raising the debt ceiling is tantamount to “giving the president a blank check,” they’re flat-out lying.

The debt ceiling is simply a procedural vote that allows the United States government to pay money that it’s already agreed to pay. 

Also known as money we’ve already approved to spend in various spending bills passed by Congress.  Again, it has nothing to do with new spending.  


This isn’t a complicated situation, because again – there is no debate.

Republicans can lie about it all day, while Fox News and other right-wing media outlets support their propaganda – but that doesn’t change the reality of what raising the debt ceiling means.

And let’s not forget that Republicans did it seven times during Bush’s eight years.  Amazing how they didn’t seem to mind doing it nearly every year when a Republican controlled the White House.

So, once again, the debt ceiling is not about new spending.  It’s not about “handing over a blank check to the president.”  All it does is allow the government to pay its bills on money we’ve already agreed to spend.

That’s it.  No debate.  No spin.  No partisan politics.

The End.

Yes, it’s really that simple.

Allen Clifton

Allen Clifton is a native Texan who now lives in the Austin area. He has a degree in Political Science from Sam Houston State University. Allen is a co-founder of Forward Progressives and creator of the popular Right Off A Cliff column and Facebook page. Be sure to follow Allen on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to his channel on YouTube as well.


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  • strayaway

    From the article, ” I struggle to even call it a debate because anyone who’s really considering not raising it is a damn fool – and you shouldn’t debate with fools.” But you are…

    “The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies.

    Over the past 5 years, our federal debt has increased by $3.5 trillion to $8.6 trillion. That is “trillion” with a “T.” That is money that we have borrowed from the Social Security trust fund, borrowed from China and Japan, borrowed from American taxpayers. And over the next 5 years, between now and 2011, the President’s budget will increase the debt by almost another $3.5 trillion.

    Numbers that large are sometimes hard to understand. Some people may wonder why they matter. Here is why: This year, the Federal Government will spend $220 billion on interest. That is more money to pay interest on our national debt than we’ll spend on Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. That is more money to pay interest on our debt this year than we will spend on education, homeland security, transportation, and veterans benefits combined. It is more money in one year than we are likely to spend to rebuild the devastated gulf coast in a way that honors the best of America.

    And the cost of our debt is one of the fastest growing expenses in the Federal budget.” -Senator Obama saying things that would help raise his stature as a moderate presidential candidate March 16, 2006
    He went on to recommend raising taxes. He also went on to raise that debt from $10T to $17.3T, so far, during his presidency. “That is “trillion” with a “T.””

    • Mrs_oatmeal

      So, we should default on money that we need to pay back? Why was this a non issue during the last administration? Do we let our credit rating drop and shake out other world markets?

      • strayaway

        We shouldn’t default. That would be unconstitutional. We should spend a lot less and tax a little more though. Republicans made compromises to that end, Democrats didn’t. President Obama set up the Simpson-Bowles Commission to come up with a way to reduce the federal debt promising that he would abide by their bi-partisan regulations. They recommended making more spending cuts than tax increases so he broke his promise or at least told the Simpson-Bowles Commission that they could keep their plan. I thought you would agree with Senator Obama’s quote. How come, Jim and I are the only ones here agreeing with Barack Obama?

  • Jim Bean

    The article seems to lead the reader to believe that there is no other way, such as cutting expenditures, to make up for the shortfall if the ceiling isn’t raised. But that not really the case, is it?

    • Kelly S

      No one wants to cut the actual bleeding wound: defense. The republicans want to cut pennies with small peanuts expenses, like Medicare, etc. If that’s the “strategy,” well, they’ve then begged to raise the debt ceiling, because that has no chance of working. Why are people so bad at math?