The Debt Ceiling: What You Need to Know About Why We’re Scarily Close to a Crisis

On Oct. 17, the U.S. runs up against its “debt ceiling”—a limit on how much we can borrow to pay the costs we’re required to pay by law. It’s a potentially very dangerous situation, even worse than the shutdown. Here’s why: right now, the U.S. is a good investment, but if we declare outright that we won’t pay our obligations, that can change quickly, with big economic consequences. (Check out this Washington Post explainer for more.)

Fortunately, it should be easy to avert. There’s no cost to raising the debt ceiling—Congress can do it with a vote. You’ll hear a lot of misinformation about what’s happening, but those are the facts.

Unfortunately, House Republicans won’t raise the debt ceiling without getting something “in exchange”—as though not defaulting and driving the country into economic crisis is a favor that they’d be doing the rest of us.

One man could change this: House Speaker John Boehner.

Here’s a very good report on the bind Boehner is in. To sum up: Boehner doesn’t want to pass a bill that doesn’t have 218 Republican votes; he has 232 Republicans; but more than 17 of them are actually debt-ceiling denialists who say that going over the debt ceiling won’t cause a crisis. (See Florida’s Rep. Ted Yoho, who claims going past the debt ceiling will reassure the markets.)

Boehner has to pass a debt ceiling increase, he won’t pass something without just GOP votes, he doesn’t have the GOP votes.

Something has to give, and what should give is Boehner’s insistence on the votes of people who don’t actually understand the debt ceiling.

We are genuinely close to a genuine crisis because one of our most powerful leaders is dependent on people who don’t know what they’re doing—or are pretending to not know what they’re doing because it gives them “leverage.”