Debt Ceiling

The phrase "debt ceiling," while having a precise meaning in the congressional budget process, misleads the public when politicized.
The phrase “debt ceiling,” while having a precise meaning in the congressional budget process, misleads the public when politicized.

The phrases “debt ceiling” and “debt limit” are misleading. While they make it sound as if Congress were debating whether to spend more money, raising this limit merely allows the U.S. Treasury to pay the bills that Federal law has required it to pay. It’s like paying off a credit card: Any additional debt incurred by the government compared to last year has already been billed and therefore must be paid. Slate’s Matthew Yglesias explains.

Progressives should avoid using these phrases because they confuse the public about what is happening and serve the interests of opponents. Instead, they should explain that the issue is whether the government should continue paying its bills on time and in full as it has for more than 200 years. Demanding legislative concessions first is irresponsible and unpatriotic because it shirks the duty of Congress to protect the credit rating of the United States.

Should it be known as the pay-the-bills measure or the billpay OK? What do you think?

UPDATE: The Omaha World-Herald published a letter to the editor from me that reframes the debt ceiling as a billpay authorization.

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