... if you just keep moving it up whenever you feel like it?
3. An upper limit, especially as set by regulation
Obama, for once, had it right in 2006, when he argued against the debt ceiling:
"The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies. … Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here. Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better."
It would be a mistake for the Republicans in the House to pretend to draw a line in the sand on this issue, only to cave later. That would give Obama the ability to claim a political victory on the issue as he did with START. So, hopefully they are serious about it if they choose to pick this fight.
It's worth considering what would happen if the debt ceiling is NOT raised. The debt ceiling is currently at 14.3 trillion. The actual US debt is currently at nearly $13.9 trillion and growing (quickly).
Would the the US default on it's debts? While this is the doomsday scenario that the Democrats are focusing on, it seems very unlikely. The debt ceiling wouldn't be set to $0, it just wouldn't be increased over the $14 trillion it is already at. Presumably, US creditors get paid first, and either discretionary programs are de-funded, or the government just continues to borrow money from itself (the Fed).
Given past behavior by the Fed during this administration, the latter seems most likely.