Americans are deeply divided when it comes to the debt ceiling.
While politicians in Washington, D.C. meet in hopes of reaching an agreement that would allow the federal government to take on debt above the current statutory limit, nearly half of Americans say the cap should be left in place, according to a Wall Street Journal poll released Wednesday.
The poll found that 45 percent of respondents said they did not favor Congress lifting the debt ceiling. Forty-four percent favor lifting it.
The government has already hit the $31.4 trillion limit borrowing and is now using budget gimmicks and special measures to be able to keep spending while lawmakers and the White House work out a deal to lift the limit. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said the government will run out of room to keep spending around June 1 if the limit is not raised. Many analysts believe the government may have several additional weeks or even months before it hits the so-called “x-date” when spending would have to be constrained.
What happens next, in the absence of a deal, is unknown. Some say the government would be forced to ‘default’ on its obligations, including payments on U.S. Treasury bonds, military salaries, and Social Security benefits. Others believe the federal government could continue to provide funds to pay the bonds, pay military and other government officials, and make Social Security payments while putting payments to private sector vendors on pause, a maneuver known as “prioritization.”
There are various proposals for unliteral action by the Biden administration but their legality is controversial and they are untested. These include issuing perpetual bonds or consuls that would pay interest to investors but not include an obligation for a principal payment, which might exempt them from the debt limit.
Some have said the government could use a law allowing for the Treasury Secretary to mint commemorative or collectible platinum coins of various denominations to create a trillion coin that could be deposited at the Federal Reserve to pay bills. Some constitutional scholars, primarily on the left, have said the president could ignore the debt limit, arguing that it violates a 14th Amendment prohibition on questioning the validity of government debt.
Speaking to the press on Tuesday, President Joe Biden said he was considering raising the 14th Amendment question before the courts but that it would not be effective to address the current debt ceiling debate because the matter would be locked up in litigation for some time.
Three out of four Republican voters oppose lifting the debt ceiling, according to the survey. Seventy-four percent of Democrats said they support a raising of the debt limit.