Debt Limit: Myth vs. Fact
First, what is the debt limit, why is it important, and what does not raising it actually mean? From the U.S. Treasury [All emphasis mine]:
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.
Failing to increase the debt limit would have catastrophic economic consequences. It would cause the government to default on its legal obligations – an unprecedented event in American history. That would precipitate another financial crisis and threaten the jobs and savings of everyday Americans – putting the United States right back in a deep economic hole, just as the country is recovering from the recent recession. Congress has always acted when called upon to raise the debt limit. Since 1960, Congress has acted 78 separate times to permanently raise, temporarily extend, or revise the definition of the debt limit – 49 times under Republican presidents and 29 times under Democratic presidents. In the coming weeks, Congress must act to increase the debt limit. Congressional leaders in both parties have recognized that this is necessary. Recently, however, a number of myths about this issue have begun to surface. The facts about the debt limit are set forth below.
I’d like to remind folks the US Treasury claims to have had little warning about the Great Financial Crisis which began in 2007. So maybe if they’re actually warning about something, we should pay attention. To read the full explanations of the myths and facts, click here.
MYTH: If Congress fails to increase the debt limit, the consequences would not be any worse than the effects of a government shutdown.
FACT: If Congress fails to increase the debt limit, the government would default on its legal obligations – an event unprecedented in American history. This would cause investors here and around the world to doubt, for the first time, whether the United States will meet its commitments. That would precipitate a self-inflicted financial crisis potentially more severe than the one from which we are now recovering.
MYTH: Raising the debt limit increases the federal government’s obligations.
FACT: Raising the debt limit simply allows the government to meet its existing legal obligations.
MYTH: If Congress simply enacted the House Republican Budget Resolution that Representative Paul Ryan proposed, there would be no need to increase the debt limit.
FACT: The House Republican Budget Resolution would require multi-trillion dollar increases in the debt limit for the next several decades.
MYTH: If Congress and the Administration would just cut spending then they wouldn’t need to increase the debt limit.
FACT: There is no credible budget plan that would allow the government to avoid a debt limit increase.
MYTH: Passing legislation to “prioritize” payments on the national debt above other legal obligations would allow the government to avoid a default without increasing the debt limit.
FACT: Legislation to “prioritize” payments would simply represent default by another name.
MYTH: The Treasury Department can simply continually push back the date it hits the debt limit.
FACT: The government will reach the debt limit in mid-May and extraordinary measures to buy additional time will be exhausted by about August 2, 2011.
Including weekends, we have fifteen days and counting.