Thursday, July 28, 2011

What Is a Debt Ceiling?

What is a debt ceiling? Most ceilings are made of wood beams or steel girders. Some old-fashioned ceilings are supported by balusters or feature moldings and friezes for decorative effect. The central support is then filled in with plaster, which is painted over and from which light fixtures are eventually hung. Debt ceilings are different in two ways. Firstly, they don’t support an upstairs or protect a room whose ceiling is contiguous with the roof. Secondly, debt ceilings go up and down (but mostly up), while the average ceiling in a room pretty much sticks in one place. If the current debt ceiling isn’t raised then the United States will unlikely be able to meet its obligations and will default on everything from U.S. Treasuries to Social Security checks and Medicare, along with the salaries of government employees. It is unlikely a plywood ceiling would be raised, and equally unlikely that the raising of such a ceiling would have a significant effect on the U.S. economy. When you rent out a log cabin, your ceiling is a selling point, since it protects inhabitants from the harsh, backwoods elements. Most people prefer to repaint their plaster ceilings or treat their wood ceilings than go to the trouble of raising them. For instance, there is fear among some fundamentalists that if the debt ceiling is raised there will be no stopping it from eventually going sky high. These same folks point to the ceiling over their heads and say, “See, this is the kind of ceiling I like. It stays where it is and protects me from the elements. Occasionally the kids upstairs make a rumpus, but that wouldn’t make me want to raise it. I’ll take a plaster ceiling over a debt ceiling any day since plaster ceilings stay right where they are.”

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