The Truth About The Debt Limit

The Washington Examiner’s Conn Carroll takes issue with Buzz Feed’s characterization of the debt limit as simply being an authorization to make good on debts the government has racked up by previous congresses. Basically, Buzz Feed’s John Stanton was just repeating a White House talking point. The truth isn’t quite so simple, as Carroll notes.

Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, very clear grants Congress, not the Executive Branch, the exclusive power “to borrow money on the credit of the United States.” Congress then transfers that power to the Executive Branch through specific authorizations to issue new debt. The Congressional Research Service reports: “Congress has always placed restrictions on federal debt. The form of debt restrictions, structured as amendments to the Second Liberty Bond Act of 1917, evolved into a general debt limit in 1939.” In 1940, the United States had about $43 billion in outstanding debt. Today it is over $16 trillion.

Section 4 of the 14th Amendment does obligate Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to always honor “the public debt of the United States,” but not all government spending promises are “public debt.” Just ask Ephram Nestor.

The interest and principal payments due on existing Treasury securities, however, absolutely are part of the public debt. But, unless Geithner chooses to do so, there is no danger that these payments will not be made. As the Bipartisan Policy Center noted in 2011, the federal government takes in far more than enough tax revenue every month to meet existing public debt obligations. It even takes in enough to to pay: all interest on Treasury securities (thus avoiding default), all Social Security obligations, all Medicare and Medicaid obligations, all Defense contractor bills, all Veterans payments, and all active duty troops, and still have almost $7 billion left over for other items.

Read the whole thing. Why read Buzz Feed for government propaganda when you can just listen to President Obama’s latest sales pitch?