Dude, Where’s My Debt Ceiling?


After Wednesday’s terrible deal to re-open 17% of government and increase the debt ceiling, rumors began circling in conservative circles that Congress had once again abdicated its duty regarding the debt ceiling, including the possibility that the President would have sole authority to raise the ceiling.

This is not the case. While Congress did abdicate its duty, that abdication is temporary, and does not relieve Congress of its power (and duty) of the purse. The full law can be seen here, but below are the basics:

First, again, Congress has temporarily abdicated its duty. The President has until Saturday to put forward an executive certification that the debt ceiling will no longer be in effect. This will last through February 7, 2013.

Second, Congress can vote to disapprove of the President’s certification, but it will go nowhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate and against a White House veto. The House will probably vote to disapprove, just to let Members say they opposed the President, but that vote is impotent.

The debt ceiling is re-established on February 8, with whatever debt has been added during the suspended period added to the current level. This will be the second time the ceiling has been suspended, and the third time in a year discussions over the debt ceiling have not produced worthwhile changes to America’s dismal fiscal future.

The real debt ceiling limit is probably somewhere in April or May of 2013, since the Treasury will be authorized to replenish its so-called “extraordinary measures,” and will have hundreds of billions of dollars with which to extend the debt ceiling past February 8.

Ed Morrissey summed it up well:

…[A]t the moment this just looks like a temporary method to make sure the can stays kicked until February 7th.

In a sane Washington, hitting the debt ceiling over and over would cause a change in behavior on spending. However, that takes political courage, and as we’ve seen in recent months, bravery in Congress is an endangered species.