Do Americans Really Want to Crash Through the Debt Ceiling?
Policy + Politics

Do Americans Really Want to Crash Through the Debt Ceiling?

Emily Flake/The Fiscal Times

Congress has about one month to raise the nation’s $16.7 trillion borrowing limit or risk sending the U.S. economy sputtering into default.

But the American public isn’t too worried. In fact, a large number of Americans don’t want lawmakers to raise the debt ceiling at all.

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll shows that just 22 percent of respondents said they believe lawmakers should hash out a deal to raise the debt limit, while 44 percent oppose increasing the government’s borrowing authority.

Here’s the question that pollsters asked:

“As you may know, the federal debt ceiling acts as a check and limit on the country’s overall liabilities, including the federal deficit and other debts. When the U.S. Treasury needs to issue debt above the ceiling in order to avoid going into bankruptcy and defaulting on its obligations, Congress needs to vote to raise the ceiling. Congress is again currently considering whether and how much to extend the debt ceiling.”

That’s a dense explanation. It pretty much buries the idea that failing to raise the debt ceiling could lead to a default, and it doesn’t explain at all what the consequences of a default might be. So it’s not surprising that 44 percent of the respondents said no – it’s not like they were all really choosing financial catastrophe.

Most Americans probably don’t understand what the consequences of hitting the debt ceiling might be. They also may not realize that the federal government does not collect enough revenue to pay for all its spending obligations and must borrow to make up this shortfall. The federal debt is the accumulation of such borrowing. So in effect, we’ve already spent the money—we just haven’t paid for it.

Experts and economists are largely in agreement that hitting the borrowing limit could seriously hurt the economy. The Bipartisan Policy Center reported that even a temporary delay could cost at least $20 billion, as well as another credit downgrade like the one from Standard & Poor’s that followed the 2011 battle.

Still, there are reasons to worry about our mounting debt and the billions we pay every year in interest on that debt that could be spent on other programs.


As he did two years ago, House Speaker John Boehner is trying to use the debt limit as leverage against President Obama to extract more spending cuts. “Coupling efforts to reduce America's debt and deficit with increases in the debt limit is a common-sense policy that has been used under Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton – and, most recently, President Obama himself,” the Speaker said this week

The new 44 percent figure may give Republicans some comfort about the prospects of a debt-ceiling showdown, at least when compared with the results of a CNN poll from earlier in the week that found that 51 percent of the public would blame Republicans for a government shutdown, compared to 33 percent who would blame Obama.

Meanwhile, Obama has vowed not to negotiate with Republicans over extending the government’s borrowing authority.

The poll results come on the heels of a new estimate from the Bipartisan Policy Center that the debt limit will be reached by Oct. 18, meaning the U.S. could default by Nov. 5.