Surprising almost no one, President Donald Trump logged onto Twitter this morning and started venting. Subjects included everything from the expected — “fake news media” and this summer’s health care failure — to the unexpected. Namely: the debt ceiling. This is something Trump hadn’t tweeted about during his presidency or his campaign, but as Congress’s fall session looms, the president is clearly starting to focus on the impending legislative agenda. But what, exactly, is the debt ceiling?
Early on the morning of Aug. 24, Trump tweeted,
I requested that Mitch [McConnell] & Paul [Ryan] tie the Debt Ceiling legislation into the popular V.A. Bill (which just passed) for easy approval. They … didn’t do it so now we have a big deal with Dems holding them up (as usual) on Debt Ceiling approval. Could have been so easy-now a mess!
The president is blaming not only Democrats, whom he has blamed for obstruction in the past, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan for not bundling it with a bill that accelerates the Department of Veteran Affairs appeals process for disability claims.
If Trump is tweeting about the debt ceiling, it’s probably going to start popping up in the news more and more. So it’s important to understand what the debt ceiling is and why Congress is going to determine whether or not to raise it this fall.
What is the debt ceiling?
Put simply: it’s the legislative limit on how much debt the U.S. Treasury can issue. The debt ceiling limits how much the government can borrow. If the debt ceiling is reached without being increased, the Treasury would have to resort to “extraordinary” and even legally dubious measures to determine which debts to pay and which to default on until the ceiling is raised, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center’s 2o17 Debt Limit Analysis.
The Congressional Research Service’s report on the debt ceiling describes federal debt as something that “accumulates when the government sells debt to the public to finance budget deficits and to meet federal obligations or when it issues debt to government accounts, such as the Social Security, Medicare, and Transportation trust funds.”
In other words, if we reach the debt ceiling without raising it, the government could very well default on payments for anything from federal employee salaries to Social Security.
Why is Trump tweeting about it?
There are so many different answers to this question that it’s hard to know where to start.
One take: the hard deadline for raising the debt limit is mid-October, and the government needs to raise the ceiling or risk defaulting on their debts, according to The New York Times.
But Trump’s tweets also fall into a familiar pattern: Trump has a habit of angrily tweeting about the failures of government after a story breaks that upsets him. This time: new emails connecting the Trump campaign to Russia have recently surfaced.
Additionally, the deadline for raising the debt ceiling comes a day before the deadline for a government funding bill to keep the government open, per CNBC. In a hard-to-follow, angry speech at his Phoenix rally, Trump recently threatened to shut down the government if he doesn’t get the money to build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. While that may have been pomp, failure to raise the debt ceiling would jeopardize his wall.
Why didn’t Ryan and McConnell tack it onto the V.A. bill Trump is talking about?
Trump just signed the bill, which attempts to ease the five-year process for vets seeking disability assistance, into law, on Aug. 23 — but the bill passed the House in late May and Senate in early August.
In an interview with CNBC, Ryan said that he’s not worried about raising the debt limit. He said,
That’s an option we were looking at, but the V.A. deadline came up, and we weren’t able to do that then. I’m really not that worried about this. We have plenty of options ahead of us.
What happens if the debt ceiling isn’t raised?
According to CNN Money, there’s really no precedent to determine what would happen, but experts know it wouldn’t be good.
CNN Money predicts that a failure to raise the ceiling could send markets into a tailspin and have a disastrous effect on not just the U.S. but the global economy.
Should we be worried?
Maybe. This isn’t the first time debt ceiling negotiations have cut it close. There were crises in 2011 and 2013, when Republicans threatened to let the government hit its limit. In 2013, during contentious budget negotiations, the government was shut down for 16 days in a fight over the Affordable Care Act. But after the Treasury warned that it could run out of money to pay its debts within a day, the Senate voted 81-18 to raise the limit, per The New York Times.
Anyways, the last time Trump tweeted about the debt ceiling was in 2013 during the Obama administration.
Per usual, Trump finds himself on the other side of the court. There truly is a for everything.
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Lisa is a news writer based in Portland, Oregon. She is currently researching and writing about abortion for her MFA in Creative Nonfiction.
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