The debt ceiling ought to be raised because nobody has a plan to eliminate the deficit immediately, and there is no popular support for doing what that would take. A congressman who isn’t presenting and supporting a zero-deficit-now plan has an obligation to give the federal government the additional borrowing authority that continued deficits make necessary.
For liberals, that’s the end of the matter. The debt ceiling should be raised without any spending cuts attached, and ideally it should be raised to infinity. One common argument goes like this: Since Congress sets spending and tax levels, no good purpose is served by holding a separate vote making it possible for the government to follow Congress’s original instructions.
That argument would have more force if the federal budget were the result of a deliberate policy. Instead, more and more of our spending rises on autopilot because of decisions made long ago, and nobody is forced to take responsibility for the gap between revenue and commitments. Bills to raise the debt ceiling are the only occasions when congressmen and the president come close to doing so. They are thus appropriate moments to attack the trends that are driving our rising debt.