Night of the Living Debt Ceiling: The Fiscal Horror That Is to Come

Obama Debt Cieling
Last week's fiscal cliff compromise did much to resolve the dark specter of economic uncertainty that has occupied America's collective conscience since the presidential election.

However, that was only the first of three terrifying fiscal crises set to hit the country before March. Sequestration -- the brutal (one may even argue suicidal) across-the-board budget cutting that Congress and the president agreed to in 2011 -- will rear its ugly head again at the end of February. At roughly the same time, Congress will need to raise America's debt ceiling -- the amount of money that the government can borrow to fund its programs. If the debt ceiling isn't increased, roughly 40% of government programs will run out of money, leading to a massive scale-back in government spending, and plunging the country back into a recession.

Right now, the debt ceiling is the most pressing problem. The U.S. hit its borrowing limit at the end of 2012, and is now running on "extraordinary measures" -- a combination of emergency borrowing and clever accounting that will make it possible to keep government running, hopefully until the problem is resolved. Meanwhile, President Obama has stated that he will not engage in a political battle with Republicans in the House of Representatives over the debt ceiling.

Obama's refusal to engage in a debate over the debt ceiling has lead to even more heated speculation about how, exactly, he will accomplish that trick. Some have suggested are that the government could mint a platinum $1 trillion coin, which would give the government enough "currency" to keep going. Another option, recently proposed by 21 Democratic Congressmen in a letter to the president, would be for Obama to invoke the 14th Amendment, which states that "the validity of the public debt of the United States ... shall not be questioned." Based on that line in the Constitution, they say, the "debt ceiling" law is moot. The government has to met its obligations to its creditors, whether Congress acts or not.

So far, the White House doesn't sound like it favors either of those options.

On the other side of the aisle, GOP congressional leaders seem to be at odds with each other. Some Republicans have signaled that they are willing to shut down the government if they don't get their way on steep cuts to social programs. Others -- including Speaker of the House John Boehner -- seem to be seeking out more reasonable solutions.

The Bipartisan Policy Center estimates that the "X Date" -- the point at which all extraordinary measures will run out and the government will shut down -- will arrive between Feb. 15 and March 1. They argue that, if we hit the debt ceiling, the government will have just two choices: Either it can shut down most of its programs immediately, or it can try to cover as many programs as possible on a day-by-day basis.

Neither choice is attractive. Whether the government immediately slashes its programs or makes short-term decisions on which items get funded, a few things are certain: Even if the country avoids default -- and another lowering of its credit rating -- it will create confusion and reduce confidence in the government. The markets would take a beating, likely driving the nation toward another recession, raising the interest on loans, and causing a massive public outcry.

(Here's the BPC's full analysis.)

Debt Limit Analysis

Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

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too bad it ALL didn't crash and burn back in 2008.

February 12 2013 at 11:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to setanta_1's comment

and YEAH, i mean IT.

February 12 2013 at 11:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

there is no free ride The people Voted in O Bama it is their wish to pay for this mess

January 11 2013 at 5:22 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rjoh959287's comment

What mess? People like you will always complain and b!tch, the rest of us are making money hand over fist. Incomes for us winners are up 100% these last 4 years. Sorry you had to be such a loser. Shoulda paid more attention in school. We're not responsible for your bad choices.

January 12 2013 at 4:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
4 replies to chris1011's comment

If you notice in the picture Obamas giving the American people the finger as usual.

January 10 2013 at 4:58 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Check out the picture of the dictator in chief on this article.

Obama thinks he's ruler of the US. and forgets he's only a public servant!

January 10 2013 at 11:42 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

People elect the representation they deserve...... when the folks get tired of a Socialist then 'real change' wil occur. In the mean time keep asking WTF Where is the Future?????

January 10 2013 at 8:22 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to cpo1514's comment

Unfortunaely .. as ntoed by the past election .... not many understand or care ... they want to know and only care about what they get for FREE

January 10 2013 at 11:23 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Hey, how is that smaller paycheck doing for all of you bloggers with a job? Thanks to the blindness of the Obama followers, we will ALL have to do more with less. This is only the start of the new taxes, kiss any refunds goodbye after next year.

January 09 2013 at 4:32 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply