Abolish the debt ceiling
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Like most Americans, I am relieved a bipartisan agreement was reached in July to raise the debt ceiling until 2021. But the underlying threat of the debt ceiling itself remains.

Congress created the debt ceiling in 1939. It is a statutory limit on the amount of national debt that may be issued by the U.S. Treasury after it has spent and incurred that debt. It ultimately limits how much money the federal government can borrow to pay its own bills. As with any borrower, the government is obliged to pay its bills, and, yet the binding debt ceiling could prevent Treasury from doing so in a timely fashion.

The debt ceiling, and the perennial crisis it creates, is dangerous to our economy. On this point, both mainstream conservative and liberal economists agree. This is why last session, and again this session, I introduced H.R.3635, legislation to abolish the United States debt ceiling.


Some say the debt ceiling is needed in order to prevent an increase in national debt. On that score, the debt ceiling has been a spectacular failure. The U.S. national debt has only continued to increase, even under President TrumpDonald John TrumpWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Gov. Ron DeSantis more popular in Florida than Trump Sotomayor accuses Supreme Court of bias in favor of Trump administration MORE who campaigned to get rid of all U.S. debt. 

Ironically, the debt ceiling was originally created not to limit debt, but to give the Treasury Department more borrowing flexibility in order to pay its bills. Clearly it has outlived its effectiveness. Instead, it is increasingly politicized and presents pointless danger. This year, like we have previously in recent years, Treasury hit its borrowing limit of roughly $22 trillion in March, but an agreement to raise the debt ceiling did not come until July when analysts threatened that Treasury would no longer be able to pay its bills.

Delays in raising the debt limit can create uncertainty in the Treasury market and lead to higher Treasury borrowing costs. During the 2011 debt ceiling negotiations, in which a compromise was struck only two days before Treasury’s borrowing authority would be exhausted, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found the delays in raising the debt limit led to an increase in Treasury’s borrowing costs of about $1.3 billion.

If we are serious about reducing spending, then the time for those decisions to be made is before federal budgets are passed.

Passing a federal budget that increases spending and the national debt, and then later deciding not to raise the debt ceiling to allow for more borrowing, is like using your credit card to buy something, but then when the credit card bill comes deciding not to pay it.


Too often in Washington, once a deadline is extended, people forget about the issue until right before the next deadline. We cannot do that this time. We cannot wait until 2021 to finally resolve this matter when we will inevitably confront a debt ceiling that is dangerously close to hitting its limit and Treasury, once again, faces the possibility of not paying its bills.

The debt ceiling achieves nothing positive. It is only a ticking time bomb to our economy. It is time to diffuse it.

Boyle is a member of the Ways & Means and House Budget committees.