The Heritage Foundation

Factsheet #128

October 8, 2013

October 8, 2013 | Factsheet on

Suspending the Debt: A License for More Wasteful Spending

Suspending the Debt: A License for More Wasteful Spending

Debt Limit Ceiling vs. Debt Limit Suspension

  • The debt ceiling is the statutory limit on federal government borrowing. Its purpose is to act as a wakeup call for Congress and the President to confront the result of their unaffordable spending decisions—a massive national debt—and correct the fiscal course.
  • A debt limit suspension increases the debt limit by completely eliminating any limitations on borrowing until a set date, as opposed to increasing the dollar amount that Washington is permitted to borrow. Congress is considering suspending the debt limit again, this time for more than a year.

Debt Limit Suspension, an Irresponsible Choice

  • Any debt suspension is a smokescreen that allows Congress to borrow and spend without any restraint until the date the suspension ends. It is like trading in a maxed-out credit card for one with no limit for a period of time (a year, for example). It is the opposite of fiscal restraint.
  • Suspending the debt is less transparent to the American people. It allows Members of Congress to avoid debate on the specific dollar amount increase in the debt limit, making their vote politically much easier to cast. A calendar date is not nearly as scary to constituents as a figure in the trillions of dollars.
  • A specified dollar increase in the debt limit helps hold Washington lawmakers in check. Whenever the limit is reached, Congress is confronted with the result of its unaffordable spending decisions and has an opportunity to correct course with spending cuts and reforms before authorizing more lending authority.

Real Leadership Starts with Taking Responsibility

  • Families are hurt by high levels of national debt. As a result of the last four years of massive deficit spending and seven increases in the debt ceiling, Washington has added $43,000 in debt for every American household. Suspending the debt for one year would increase each household’s debt by another $8,800.
  • The debt limit is about controlling deficit spending. Congress should cut discretionary spending, maintaining sequester-level spending cuts first, and reform mandatory programs, starting with repealing the Affordable Care Act, to put the budget on a path to balance before increasing the debt limit.

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