It’s the Debt Ceiling, Stupid! A Factual Guide for Republicans

boehner-debtA few years ago the vast majority of Americans had never heard of the term “debt ceiling,” let alone cared much about it.  The reason for this was simple — it’s nothing more than a procedural vote done by Congress that allows the government to spend the money we’ve already agreed to spend.

It’s not about new spending.  It’s not any sort of spending bill.  It’s just a procedural vote that allows the United States to pay its bills.

Think of it like a credit card.  You’ve already made the charges.  You’ve used, or obtained, the goods or services which you charged on the particular card — but now it’s time to pay the bills.  Your bank needs an authorization from you to do so.  It’s basically you authorizing the bank to send payment for money you’ve already spent.  By not authorizing the bank to do so, you’ll be late on your payments, end up defaulting on your credit and ruining your credit.

Granted the debt ceiling is slightly more complicated than that — but not much.  That’s why most of us had never heard of the debt ceiling before just a few years ago.  It’s a procedural vote that should go off without a hitch, because it’s just that simple and straight forward.  It wasn’t until Republicans began using its vote as a mechanism to hold the United States economy hostage in an attempt to blackmail the president that the debt ceiling suddenly became nationally known.

In fact, let’s look at what the U.S. Department of the Treasury defines the debt ceiling (or debt limit) as:

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.

Pretty simple.  It’s not about new spending.  It’s not about spending increases of any kind.  It’s simply a procedural vote that allows the United States to pay its bills—period.

Yet, while it’s a very simple vote, not increasing the debt ceiling could have catastrophic economic consequences.  It would most assuredly crash our stock market and leave us in another financial crisis which could end up being even worse than what we experienced a few years ago.

It’s such an important vote that the United States government has never, not even once, failed to increase the debt limit on time.

So when Republicans sit there and try and use this vote as some kind of leverage to blackmail the president into giving them something they want, they’re gambling with not just our economy, but the lives of millions of Americans.

To say their actions are reckless would be an understatement.

And it’s even more dangerous that many Republicans have blatantly distorted what the debt ceiling is and the consequences that could follow if we refused to raise it on time.

So once more–the debt ceiling is not about new spending, it’s not about borrowing more money, it’s not a spending bill of any kind. 

And it’s damn sure not something anyone, or political party, within our government should be using as some kind of bargaining chip.

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.


Facebook comments

  • Greg Morgan

    The additional conclusion that one can draw on the basis of this article is that there is no useful function for the debt ceiling. Let’s get rid of it.


      Agreed – According to the 14th Amendment “The public debt of the United States shall not be questioned.” – The debt ceiling is unconstitutional!

  • radsenior

    It’s official, every TEA-type and Republican who vote or allow the US to flounder over the debt ceiling must be taken to task for their failure to provide their fiduciary function for the nation. They entered into a contract, passed laws and incurred debt! They are the only ones responsible for any failure to pay their obigations, much like a debt to banks! Their actions will not hurt anyone but everyday citizens while banks make off well. Banks have hedge funding and other instruments to cushion the blow. They are betting that obama will yell “Uncle!” They are wrong! Wake up, America! How much lower can the TEA-Republicans stoop? Sequestration, 41 attempts to de-fund Obamacare, cutting the Food Stamp budget, shutting down the government over Obamacare, holding the debt ceiling hostage while at the state level passing TRAP laws intended to close nearly every women’s health clinic in the states they control. The 2014 Mid-term is a-coming! As is 2016, and 2018! V.O.T.E.(Vote Out The Encumberance) Sweep the states and Congress clean in 2014! YOUR VOTE ONLY COUNTS WHEN YOU VOTE! IF YOU DO NOT VOTE, THAT IS JUST LIKE VOTING FOR THE OPPOSITION!

    • James Geiger

      Amen to all that!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Common Sense

    Wrong. It is not like authorizing the bank to pay your bills. It’s like asking for a credit limit increase because you’ve decided to spend more than your limit. No wonder a debt ridden society… just borrow more mentality.

    • Donna Hayles Price

      Well, there’s no common sense there, common sense. You are incorrect. It has NOTHING to do with deciding to spend more…. blah, blah, blah. YOU’VE ALREADY SPENT IT. It’s a rubber stamp okay to pay the bills you’ve ALREADY run up. PERIOD. Get educated or shut up.

    • Becky

      For crying out loud, did you just not read what this post said? It explains EXACTLY what the debt ceiling is. PERIOD. People like you spreading your lack of knowledge around is the real problem here. This is a non issue, bills need to be paid… Let’s pay them. Please get educated or stop making stupid remarks.

  • Random Reader

    You’re right in the fact that it’s not trying to spend more; however, it’s deciding to continue to spend the amount that we’ve been spending which is far beyond the means of the US revenue. It’s like opening a new credit card to pay off your other credit cards while not doing anything to change the fact that you’re still spending more than what you’re making. So no, the problem with the government isn’t necessarily the debt ceiling, it’s the fact that the debt ceiling is allowing the president and congress the option to continue giving money to other countries and funding unnecessary programs and projects. Yes, it hurts to not be able to help other countries when we have been the go-to country for so long and yes it hurts to not be able to go on vacations and fund all our friends’ ventures. But, (metaphorically speaking) should we really be going on vacations and giving our loose dollars to the homeless when we are further in debt than that homeless person ever was just because we have a higher credit limit?

  • gemma liar

    ok class,,,,,,,lets all look at how many times rightwing regressives ( repubs) voted to INCREASE debt ceiling under Reagan,,,bush 1 and bush 2,,,,,ok class? now look at their vote on SAME THING under Obama……any questions? crybaby obstructionist regressive tea bag party atrophying,,,say BYEBYE to the latest version on the john birch society