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Sorting out the truth about the debt ceiling

The debt ceiling negotiations have been held in the White House Cabinet Room. The debt ceiling negotiations have been held in the White House Cabinet Room.

The debt ceiling negotiations have been held in the White House Cabinet Room.

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson July 14, 2011

All eyes in Washington are on the debt ceiling talks. So ours are too.

President Barack Obama and Congress are in intense discussions on raising the debt ceiling -- the legal limit on how much money the government can borrow. After hitting the debt ceiling earlier this year, the U.S. Treasury Department juggled accounts as a temporary measure buying time for further negotiations. But officials now expect the debt limit to be reached Aug. 2, 2011.

We recently looked at two statements related to the future of the federal budget.

Crossroads GPS -- a deep-pocketed conservative advocacy group -- unveiled an advertisement on July 8, 2011, that targets voters who may have supported Barack Obama in 2008 but have become disaffected by the direction of the economy during his presidency.
The ad features a mother lying awake at night worrying about her family’s economic situation. She says she supported Obama initially "because he spoke so beautifully, but since then things have gone from bad to much worse." She says Obama’s stimulus didn’t improve the economy, and that the national debt worries her.
"Our country's got this huge debt," the ad says, "and Obama says raise taxes and keep spending more? Doesn't Washington know we can't afford more taxes and debt? … There’s got to be a way to take away President Obama’s blank check."
We focused on the question of whether Obama’s approach is to "raise taxes and keep spending more."
We concluded that ad is right about tax increases but incorrect about spending increases. On balance, we rated it Half True.

Separately, we checked a statement by Obama in a CBS interview on July 12, 2011.

Obama said that, due to concerns over fallout from a failure to raise the debt ceiling, "I cannot guarantee that those checks go out on August 3rd if we haven't resolved this issue, because there may simply not be the money in the coffers to do it."

We found that the president was probably justified in saying that the possibility of an un-raised debt ceiling jeopardizes Social Security checks -- after all, it hasn't happened before, so no one knows for sure. But we also thought that the president probably has tools at his disposal to avoid the worst-case scenario for seniors that he expresses concern about. Acknowledging that there are a lot of uncertainties, we rated his statement Half True.

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Sorting out the truth about the debt ceiling