Putting an End to Debt-Ceiling Nonsense

A new ceiling.

Photographer: Mark Wilson

The absurdist political theater surrounding the U.S. government debt ceiling is having another revival. With debt default looming next month, President Donald Trump has agreed to a deal that will grant emergency relief for Hurricane Harvey and raise the ceiling — until December, when another phony fiscal crisis is scheduled.

Given the impressive dysfunction of Congress, compounded these days by an unusually incompetent White House, there's something to be said for institutional strictures that make it harder for government borrowing to get dangerously high. The debt ceiling is meant to do that. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work.

The U.S. has yet to address the long-acknowledged fiscal problem posed by its aging population — and the latest debt-ceiling squabble has failed, like many times before, to put that issue on Congress's agenda. Instead it has served as a lever for short-term political bargaining.