Bills upon bills going through the ceiling

“Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize more spending. It simply allows the country to pay for spending that Congress has already committed to.”

With those words, President Barack Obama repeated Monday why he objects to any attempt to use the federal debt limit as a bargaining chip in reducing federal spending.

“These are bills we’ve already racked up and we need to pay them,” the president said.

Unfortunately, that statement is factual – the part about an increase in the debt limit being needed just to meet previous commitments. If you thought the debt ceiling needed to be raised to cover the projected deficit for the current fiscal year, you would be mistaken.

“Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize us to spend more,” Obama said. “All it does is say that America will pay its bills.”

Sure, but when? What an increase in the debt limit would mean is America is promising to pay its bills … sometime in the future. Obligations due now are exchanged for long-term debt.

Since the last debt-ceiling standoff in August 2011, the federal government has racked up (there’s that term again) another $2.1 trillion in debt. That took a little less than 18 months.

Meanwhile, the future began to arrive. Since 2010, Social Security has been paying out more in benefits than it is taking in from payroll taxes. That means the federal government must start repaying $2.6 trillion borrowed from the Social Security Trust Funds (plus interest). It’s another one of those bills we’ve racked up.

The national debt is a mammoth problem, but it’s not the illness, it’s a symptom. What ails America are continuing budget deficits. If the debt ceiling won’t force Washington to deal with that issue, what will?