On Wednesday, Congress reached a deal to disregard the $16.4 trillion limit on government borrowing and re-open the Federal government. The deal has been widely touted as a measure to raise the Nation’s debt ceiling—in reality, however, the deal simply suspends the current debt ceiling, giving the Federal government open-ended spending power through Feb. 7.
The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein explains how the government disregards the debt ceiling using an idea Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office came up with in 2011:
The way it works is that the president gets the power to raise the debt ceiling and then Congress gets an opportunity to take a vote of “disapproval.” If that vote passes Congress, then the president can veto the disapproval rule. If Congress can muster the two-thirds majority to overturn the veto, then the president’s debt-ceiling increase is rejected.
In other words, the debt ceiling vote goes from a vote where a majority of Congress needs to vote in favor of it to a vote where up to two-thirds of Congress can vote against it.
We’ve been using the McConnell mechanism to raise the debt ceiling since 2011. If we made the McConnell mechanism permanent — something the Obama administration favors — it would basically disarm the debt ceiling forever. But last night’s deal didn’t make the McConnell mechanism permanent. It’s only valid until Feb. 7, 2014.
In other words, there is no limit to how much debt the government can accumulate between now and Feb. 7, and lawmakers have gotten away with allowing the country to take on debt and avoid the threat of default without ever being responsible for voting for debt limit increase.
“Suspending the debt ceiling without a dollar amount is further proof that Congress is taking a major step backward in fiscal responsibility,” David Williams, the president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, told The Daily Caller. “A real dollar figure is a constant reminder to taxpayers and Congress that the country is broke. This was done to hide the real debt from taxpayers.”