Some debt limit trivia

Thanks to this interminable and absurd government shut down and the possible debt ceiling breach, I have learned more about the functioning of government finances that I ever thought I would.

One of the interesting bits of trivia is that although I have been reporting that the current debt ceiling set on May 19, 2013 is $16.7 trillion, it turns out that the figure is more precise than that. The actual figure, believe it or not, is specified down to the last cent: $16,699,421,095,673.60 (Table III-C).

So the government did not do any rounding but this seems to be a new thing. The previous debt limit set on January 27, 2102 was $16.394 trillion exactly. So the current limit has be the result of the application of some formula. But since the limits are set by Congress, why didn’t they round off as before to exactly $16.699 trillion? If they really needed that extra $421 million, why not round up to $16.7 trillion?

This level of precision raises silly questions in my mind. When the debt limit is spoken of in terms of billions, one naturally assumes that violations would involve spending of the order of billions or at least hundreds of millions. But when I saw that figure, my immediate reaction was to wonder about what would happen if the limit were exceeded by (say) just 10 cents? Can they look for loose change in the seat cushions to stave off default?

I really need to get my mind off this topic …


  1. jamessweet says

    The “looking for change in the seat cushions” thing is exactly what Rand Paul and many Tea Partiers are suggesting. It wouldn’t be ENTIRELY insane, if it weren’t for the fact that it’s all automated. In that regard, I imagine that while exceeding the debt ceiling by ten cents is probably something that could be worked around, it would probably be a much huger pain in the ass than is really proportionate.

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