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Why the debt ceiling isn't actually a ceiling on debt

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Joe Heller / Green Bay Press Gazette / File

(Read caption) This cartoon first ran in November 2004. Every few years, Congress votes to raise the debt ceiling. Votes to shrink the debt are much rarer. In the image, two pilgrims (Congress) stand in a barn with a gigantic turkey (the then-$7.4 trillion national debt) crunched up against the ceiling (debt ceiling). One pilgrim hands an axe to the other who says, "Thanks! I can use it to chop a hole in the roof."

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Hmmm….. According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released this week:

The U.S. public overwhelmingly opposes raising the country’s debt limit even though failure to do so could hurt America’s international standing and push up borrowing costs…

Some 71 percent of those surveyed oppose increasing the borrowing authority, the focus of a brewing political battle over federal spending. Only 18 percent support an increase.

Yet from the same poll (emphasis added):

Only 24 percent say the country can afford to cut back on education spending, a likely Republican target, and 21 percent support cuts to law enforcement.

With the Pentagon fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, 51 percent supported cutbacks to military spending.

Less than half, 45 percent, support an expected Republican effort to pare environmental enforcement.

Some 53 percent support cutting the budgets of financial regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission, in spite of the widespread consensus that a lax regulatory atmosphere contributed to the devastating financial crisis of 2007-2009.

And 47 percent support cutbacks to national parks, which were shuttered for several weeks during the budget battles of 1995 and 1996.

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