Spotlight: The Debt Ceiling

Off The Sidelines
4 min readOct 3, 2021


Let’s talk about the debt ceiling.

That’s the cap on the amount of money the U.S. government can borrow to pay its debts.

In a matter of weeks, the federal government will exceed this legal borrowing limit. And it’s not hyperbole to say that if Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling, it would be catastrophic for our economy and American families.

As Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said, “It would be disastrous for the American economy, for global financial markets, and for millions of families and workers whose financial security would be jeopardized by delayed payments.”

Historically, raising the debt ceiling is a bipartisan exercise in Congress. But today, Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans aren’t just REFUSING to vote to raise the debt ceiling, they are actually filibustering the Democratic majority from raising it on their own. They’d rather tank the economy and score political points.

This Off the Sidelines Spotlight explores the debt ceiling, debunk the GOP talking points, and break down where we go from here.

If you remember one thing, it’s this: Republicans are shirking their responsibilities — to American families, to our economy, to their oath of office — by refusing to vote to raise the debt ceiling alongside Democrats.

“It’s quite rich coming from a party — the party of Trump — who enacted $1.5 trillion of tax cuts and didn’t pay for a penny of them.”

-Kirsten Gillibrand

So let’s cut through the noise. We’re breaking down what Republicans are saying about the debt ceiling — and then giving you the facts.

WHAT REPUBLICANS ARE SAYING: “Senate Republicans should not have to vote to raise the debt ceiling because WE don’t support the new initiatives proposed by the Biden administration.”

THE TRUTH: Raising the debt limit has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with new spending. It is purely backward-looking. In fact, 97% of the debt in question was incurred BEFORE President Biden took office.

WHAT REPUBLICANS ARE SAYING: “We don’t want to raise the debt ceiling and authorize new spending.”

THE TRUTH: Once again, nope. That’s not how this works. Raising the debt ceiling enables the Treasury to borrow for spending already authorized by Congress.

WHAT REPUBLICANS ARE SAYING: “Senate Republicans don’t need to help raise the debt limit because it has ALWAYS been a partisan exercise.” (Just last month, Mitch McConnell was quoted saying that there was “no tradition of doing this [raising the debt limit] on a bipartisan basis.”)

THE TRUTH: That’s just plain false. Democrats THREE TIMES voted to help Trump and Congress raise the debt ceiling. Why? Partisan politics and brinkmanship should never threaten to derail our nation’s economy.

WHAT REPUBLICANS ARE SAYING: “Democrats have a majority in the House and Senate. They can just raise the debt ceiling on their own.”

THE TRUTH: Republicans are blocking ALL Democratic efforts to raise the debt ceiling. First, they blocked a bill that was passed in the House that would suspend the debt ceiling through 2022. And just last week, Mitch McConnell blocked an effort by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to bypass the Senate filibuster and raise the debt ceiling with just 50 votes.

WHAT REPUBLICANS ARE SAYING: “Not raising the debt ceiling would be a DISASTER for the U.S. economy.”

THE TRUTH: Well, we’re 100% in agreement with Republicans there. Failure to raise the debt ceiling would be catastrophic. Defaulting on our nation’s debts could mean:

  • 30 million families could stop receiving President Biden’s Expanded Child Tax Credit, passed earlier this year through the American Rescue Plan.
  • Seniors could miss social security checks. Without social security, almost 22 million Americans would fall into poverty.
  • Veterans benefits could be delayed, and military service members could stop receiving paychecks.
  • Our country’s credit could be downgraded, spiking interest rates. That could raise mortgage, car and credit card payments.
  • The stock market could plummet, hurting 401ks and other investments.

READ | Mitch McConnell doesn’t get the point of the debt limit (POLITICO)

WATCH | This video of Kevin McCarthy explaining the debt ceiling in 2017 — and then in 2021 (Twitter)

LISTEN | “What the debt ceiling drama means for you” (NPR’s Marketplace)

READ | Republicans are gambling recklessly on the debt limit (New Yorker)

SPREAD THE WORD: We need to make it crystal clear that Republicans ALONE are responsible for the debt ceiling crisis. By REFUSING to vote on a bipartisan basis, they’re putting partisan games over American families and our economy.

DONATE: The midterms are just over a year away, and it is absolutely essential that we protect our narrow Senate and House majorities. Make a donation to Off the Sidelines PAC and your donation will go directly toward protecting vulnerable incumbents like Rep. Katie Porter and Sen. Raphael Warnock and power the campaigns of challengers like Rep. Val Demings.



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