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The Debt Ceiling

What is the debt ceiling and why does it matter?

The debt ceiling or the debt limit is the total amount of debt the federal government is allowed to have. Raising the debt ceiling does not increase the national debt and it does not have a direct impact on federal spending.  Instead, raising the debt ceiling allows the U.S. Treasury to borrow funds to cover the existing obligations that the government has already incurred. These debts include funding most federal programs and the agencies that oversee them, and include programs that help low-income Americans, like Medicaid and women’s health programs.

As the debate dragged on the treasury secretary warned that if the debt ceiling wasn’t raised before October 18, the nation would default on its debt for the very first time in history. 

On October 17, as the U.S. reached the debt ceiling, Congress suspended the debt ceiling as part of the temporary budget agreement. There was overwhelming consensus that if the United States had actually defaulted on its debt there would have been disastrous national and global economic consequences.

What is Congress doing about the debt ceiling?

Since 1960, Congress has voted 79 times to raise, extend, or revise the definition of the debt limit under both Republican and Democratic [residents, including the most recent vote on October 17, 2013.  However, during the current administration, some Republicans in Congress have started using raising the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip in budget battles to push for their wish list of demands that have often included defunding or repealing the Affordable Care Act, slashing funding for safety net programs, and limiting access to health care for low income women.   

How does the latest deal address the debt ceiling?

It just temporarily suspends the debt ceiling limit until February 7, 2014, which means that this fight will start all over again in the New Year.  Planned Parenthood is ready to stand up for women’s health programs throughout these battles.