Raising the federal debt ceiling should be automatic. That's how things worked before the Tea Party crazies got into Congress.
Consider the facts, from Wikipedia:
Every President since Harry Truman has added to the national debt expressed in absolute dollars. The debt ceiling has been raised 74 times since March 1962, including 18 times under Ronald Reagan, eight times under Bill Clinton, seven times under George W. Bush and three times (to August 2011) under Barack Obama.
...The process of setting the debt ceiling is separate and distinct from the regular process of financing government operations, and raising the debt ceiling neither directly increases nor decreases the budget deficit.
The US government passes a federal budget every year. This budget details projected tax collections and outlays and, therefore, the amount of borrowing the government would have to do in that fiscal year.
A vote to increase the debt ceiling is, therefore, usually seen as a formality, needed to continue spending that has already been approved previously by the Congress and the President.
The Government Accountability Office explains, "the debt limit does not control or limit the ability of the federal government to run deficits or incur obligations. Rather, it is a limit on the ability to pay obligations already incurred." The apparent redundancy of the debt ceiling has led to suggestions that it should be abolished altogether.
Yes, it should be. Or failing that, the President should have the authority to raise the debt limit on his (or her, after Hillary wins in 2016) own.
This is what Obama is demanding, entirely reasonably, as part of the "fiscal cliff" negotiations going on now.
Congress, which includes the Republican-dominated House of Representatives, approves the level of federal taxation and spending each year. If there's an excess of spending over revenues, money has to be borrowed to pay for this.
Raising the debt ceiling, as noted by the GAO, has absolutely nothing to do with budget deficits. Rather, failing to raise the debt ceiling is the equivalent of refusing to pay off your credit card balance after you've voluntarily bought stuff.
Dialogue in an episode of HBO's "Newsroom" got this exactly right.
"The debt ceiling doesn't give permission for the government to borrow more money, it gives it permission to pay back the money we already borrowed."
So Obama needs to stand firm on Republican efforts to wreck this country's credit rating by the federal government defaulting on its obligations. If the GOP wants to do that, Republicans need to be held accountable for the disastrous consequences.
No bargaining with them. No negotiating with them. No hostage-taking discussions with them.
Ezra Klein lays out what I hope is indeed the Obama administration's game plan in "The GOP's dangerous debt-ceiling gamble."
Whatever House Republicans might think, the White House is all steel when it comes to the debt ceiling. Their position is simple, and it’s typically delivered in the tone of voice that Bruce Willis reserves for talking to terrorists: They’re happy to raise the debt ceiling on their own, as would be the case under their proposal to take authority for the debt ceiling away from Congress. But if Congress rejects that offer, then the debt ceiling is Congress’s problem, and the White House will not help.
The Obama administration is utterly steadfast on this point: They will not suffer a repeat of 2011, when they conducted negotiations over whether the United States should default. If Republicans go over the cliff and try to open up talks for raising the debt ceiling, the White House will not hold a meeting, they will not return a phone call, they will not look at the e-mails. They will move to an entirely public strategy, rallying voters and the business community against the GOP’s repeated brinksmanship.
Way to go.
There's little doubt that business leaders want the debt ceiling raised in a routine fashion, no drama or brinksmanship involved. Check out this scene from "Newsroom," which should be required viewing for John Boehner and other economically clueless Republicans.