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The Bottom Line on the Debt Ceiling

As we approach another round of public debate over the debt ceiling, let it be understood that the debt ceiling is wholly artificial and that the borrowing needed is a direct result of congressional budgeting.  As such, if Congress wants to control how much must be borrowed to cover spending, it has it within its power to raise revenue and/or cut spending so as to lower the amount needing to be borrowed.

Pretending like the debt ceiling is actually has anything to do with the debt obligations of the United States is pure ignorance, cowardice, and/or prevarication.

There is no legitimate debate here.  It is all show.  It is a faux debate for intellectual cowards who do not want to deal with the real issues.

There shouldn’t even be a vote on the debt ceiling.  It is utter foolishness that the mechanism exists at all.

I am to the point where I can see no reason to take seriously any politician who pretends otherwise.

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor and Chair of Political Science at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. He is the author of Voting Amid Violence: Electoral Democracy in Colombia and is currently working on a comparative study of the US to 29 other democracies. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging at PoliBlog since 2003. Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. legion says:

    Ooooopps. Sorry, Steven. I’m afraid you’ll never get a talking-head gig with sanity like this on your record…

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 0

  2. john personna says:
  3. @john personna: Yup–that was a remarkable segment.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  4. Brummagem Joe says:

    All true Steven, but all sorts of everyday realities have long been dependant upon rather crazy political conventions.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. Rob in CT says:

    At least in the past the debt ceiling was just used for some harmless grandstanding nonsense. That changed last year, and it cannot be allowed to repeat.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  6. @Brummagem Joe: Indeed, there is an angle here in terms of analyzing actual politics in action. It is a reality that the debt ceiling vote mechanism exists and that it is being cynically used by the GOP and that can be discussed.

    Still: anyone who has a modicum of intellectual honesty has to acknowledge the utter cynicism of it all.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  7. David M says:

    The part I can’t stand is how the discussion of the debt ceiling has morphed into “the president wants to spend more money”, as if it’s him alone doing it. We will hit the debt ceiling due to spending and revenue decisions that Congress has already made, so they should not be able to pretend otherwise.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  8. stonetools says:

    According to Ezra Klein, the Administration is serious about getting rid of the debt ceiling vote mechanism once and for all .

    They’re almost religious about this: They believe they owe it to future generations to break the back of the idea that minority parties can and should play Russian roulette with the economy.

    AMEN. The Administration needs to shoot the debt ceiling gambit with a silver bullet, drive a stake through its heart, cut off its head, bury it in a garlic-filled coffin, and sow the ground with salt.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  9. john personna says:

    @David M:

    In the video above, McConnell was indeed grandstanding, saying that Obama is asking for an “unlimited authority to borrow whatever he wants to”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  10. scott says:

    I choose prevarication

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  11. de stijl says:

    We must not allow the 2011 debt limit hostage crisis to become a habit. I fear that congressional Republicans do not agree with me. If they pursue the same monkeyshines they did last time, they need to get slapped down. Hard. Hard enough to learn the lesson to eff around with financial catastrophe on purpose.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. Mikey says:

    It is utter foolishness that the mechanism exists at all.

    It is an odd anachronism. But before it was instituted (in 1917, from what I was able to find), Congress had to hold a separate vote for every instance of borrowing. Can you imagine this kind of silliness every time Congress wanted to borrow so much as a dollar?

    Also, according to the Wiki, the only other nation that has such a debt ceiling is Denmark and theirs is so high they’ll probably never reach it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  13. Scott F. says:

    It’s cowardice, plain and simple. The same cowardice that has the Republicans refusing to name the cuts to entitlements they want or the tax deductions they would eliminate.

    The fact is the GOP refuses to say exactly what they mean by limited government, because they fear having to truly fight for what they profess to believe. One could conclude they don’t really believe what they say.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  14. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Not only is this a giant dog & pony show arguably it’s the dumbest dog & pony show in recent memory, which is saying something.

    But rules are rules and although they’re optional in academic circles they’re not really optional in legislative circles. And politics is not a game of hearts. We do have a debt ceiling. And politicians are trying to use it to their advantage. Not precisely good cause for high dudgeon mode.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

  15. John D'Geek says:

    @Mikey:

    It is an odd anachronism.

    Concur. It was put in there to control federal spending, but we can all see how well that worked …

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  16. David M says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    We do have a debt ceiling. And politicians are trying to use it to their advantage. Not precisely good cause for high dudgeon mode.

    Except their debt ceiling posturing has real world implications which shouldn’t be ignored. The politicians talking about not raising the debt ceiling were saying that our government was not going to honor its debt obligations any longer. That’s a pretty radical position to take, and mind-numbingly irresponsible, even for the GOP.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  17. @Tsar Nicholas:

    But rules are rules and although they’re optional in academic circles they’re not really optional in legislative circles

    A. Clearly, you are utterly unfamiliar with academia

    And more importantly

    B. One of the cool features of rule created by legislatures is that those selfsame legislatures can change said rules. Or perhaps you are unfamiliar with that concept as well?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  18. jukeboxgrad says:

    steven:

    Pretending like the debt ceiling is actually has anything to do with the debt obligations of the United States is pure ignorance, cowardice, and/or prevarication.

    Yes, especially since H.Con.Res. 112 (“Concurrent Resolution on the Budget for Fiscal Year 2013″) calls for a total of $3,127B in deficits for the period 2013-2022. This bill was sponsored by Ryan and passed by the GOP House on 3/29/12. 96% of the Rs in the House voted for this bill. Link, link.

    So the GOP passed a budget calling for $3T in new debt, and is now taking the position that the debt limit should not go up. Yes, this is the ultimate in cowardice and hypocrisy.

    There is a recent Matt Miller column making this point (link):

    Given that Republicans all voted for $6 trillion in new debt in their budget last year, I think most Americans would agree its hypocritical for them not to raise the ceiling now.

    I think he’s using a different number because he’s looking at a different vote, but the basic point is the same.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  19. jukeboxgrad says:

    Pinning down one number is kind of confusing.

    The Ryan budget is here (pdf). Scroll to page 88 in your pdf reader. He indicates that “Debt Held by Public” is $11,355B in 2012 and $15,364B in 2022. The difference between those two numbers is $4,009B. I’m not sure if that matches up correctly with the numbers in the bill I cited.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  20. Ben Wolf says:

    @Steven Taylor

    The debt ceiling was a necessity of the Bretton Woods system. Once the gold-backed dollar became the international reserve currency a mechanism was needed to ensure too many dollars were not in circulation, so at times the Treasury would sell securities as authorized by the Congress to drain any excess and maintain the required dollar-to-gold relationship. Unfortunately, gold-standard thinking has continued since Nixon closed the gold window in 1971, and we are still saddled with the legacy of of a monetary system which no longer exists.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  21. Curtis says:

    It used to be, I think, that anytime Congress passed a budget that called for borrowing, they simultaneously passed an increase in the debt ceiling to accomodate that borrowing.

    It is silly that we have a debt ceiling, but while we do, we are going to need to raise it from time to time. But we should at least force all appropriations that require borrowing to include authorization for that borrowing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0