An Axios/Ipsos Hard Truth Higher Education poll from August, for example, asked people to name issues that worried them the most, and government budget and debt tied with immigration for sixth place behind coronavirus, political extremism, climate, crime, and health care. In Gallup’s mid-August question that asks people to volunteer what they think is the most important problem facing the country, 2 percent spontaneously mentioned the federal deficit and debt. In the abstract, Americans have long wanted the country to live within its means, but at the same time, they want government to do a lot. Most recent polls show solid support for the $1 trillion infrastructure legislation and slightly less enthusiastic support for the $3.5 trillion social infrastructure package.
The news cycle moves at a dizzying speed, and it is likely that if the US comes close to defaulting on the federal debt sometime in October, the public will start paying attention. This happened in past showdowns as people realized that government checks would stop, not to mention dire global financial implications. In early August 2011, 71 percent in a Pew Research Center poll said they had been following the negotiations on the debt limit deal very or fairly closely. A mid-October 2013 question from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 75 percent followed the fight between President Obama and congressional leaders about the extension and the shutdown very or fairly closely. (In 2011, resolution came in early August and in 2013, it came in mid-October.)
BIG CAVEAT: Many people do not understand this issue. It is likely that they equate raising the debt ceiling with increasing spending. That is false.
- The debt ceiling does not control the amount of debt. Instead, it is an after-the-fact measure that restricts the Treasury’s ability to borrow to finance the decisions already enacted by Congress and the President.
- Delays in raising the debt ceiling can disrupt financial markets, increase U.S. borrowing costs, and threaten the full faith and credit of the United States.