The Debt Ceiling Debate: What to Know and What Could Happen if We Default

The debt ceiling has become a hot-button issue in Congress once again, as the United States faces the possibility of defaulting on its obligations. The debt ceiling is the legal limit set by Congress on how much debt the federal government can take on. If this limit is not raised, the government will default on its payments, which could have catastrophic effects on the economy.

Past discussions surrounding increasing the debt ceiling have included efforts to reduce wasteful spending and reform the budget process, while also allowing Congress to have oversight. The debt ceiling has been raised 78 times since 1960, most recently in October 2021.[0]

However, the debt ceiling has become a political battle, with far-right Republicans refusing to raise the debt ceiling. The result of this could be the government not being able to pay its debts, similar to what would occur with an individual. Should the country’s credit rating and the value of the dollar decrease, it is likely that our taxes will be raised.[1]

One proposal, which was included in the Budget Control Act of 2011, allowed President Barack Obama to increase the debt ceiling, subject to a potential override by Congress.[2] Congress has the ability to pass a joint resolution of congressional disapproval if they desire to put a stop to something.[2] Under the McConnell plan, Congress would still have oversight, but the use of the debt ceiling as a weapon would be eliminated.[2]

The bottom line is that the debt ceiling serves no policy purpose whatsoever, but its sheer legislative voltage tends to electrify politicians, making its abolition effectively impossible.[3] Now, the parties are only at the opening stages of negotiation, and it remains to be seen what the outcome will be.[4] But, as the debt ceiling debate continues, it is important to remember that the consequences of a default would be severe, and it should not be taken lightly.

0. “The debt ceiling debate provides no love for taxpayers” The Hill, 13 Feb. 2023,

1. “On political fight over debt ceiling [letter] | Letters To The Editor |” LNP | LancasterOnline, 12 Feb. 2023,

2. “Opinion | Jeff Merkley and Tim Kaine: Mitch McConnell’s debt-ceiling idea is good” The Washington Post, 14 Feb. 2023,

3. “Ignore politicians’ talk on the debt ceiling.” Axios, 11 Feb. 2023,

4. “How This Debt Ceiling Debate Could End” FiveThirtyEight, 14 Feb. 2023,