The debt ceiling: What is it and why do I care?

Janet L Yellen
Posted at 3:35 PM, Oct 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-04 19:15:32-04

The United States Senate on Monday afternoon began debating an extension of the debt ceiling.

Congress has until Oct. 18 to take action and avoid defaulting on our nation's debts, but there's confusion over what all this means, so here’s an in-depth look into what the debt ceiling is and how we could be affected here at home. What is it?

The debt ceiling is the amount of money the government can borrow to pay its bills. Right now, the most debt the country can incur is $28.4 trilliion. Treasury secretary Janet Yellen needs the debt limit raised so she can borrow money to pay the nation's bill.

Think of this as your credit card limit and you're asking to have it raised.

What happens if it isn’t raised?

If the debt ceiling isn't raised and the nation defaults, millions who depend on government programs would be impacted.

Yellen and The White House said 15 million seniors could stop receiving their Social Security payments or see delays.

Child tax-credit payments for 30 million families could also stop or be delayed.

Paychecks would also come to a halt for U.S. Military servicemembers, and the same could happen for veteran's benefits.

Paychecks also would stop for federal employees, and there would also be no FEMA funds for hurricane and wildfire victims.

Child-nutrition programs and other food assistance could also stop.

Why is there a debt limit?

In case you're wondering, the debt limit exists in the U.S. because of the Constitution.

Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution states, "The Congress shall have the power to borrow money on the credit of the United States."

Then in 1917, during World War One, Congress gave the treasury department more flexibility to borrow money.

The nation's first official debt limit was set at $45 billion in 1939.

According to the treasury department, the debt limit has been raised 78 times by Congress since 1960.

The U.S. has never let the debt limit lapse.