(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Trump's Treasury secretary dismisses debt ceiling as a "somewhat ridiculous concept"

Mnuchin's logic was not shared by Republicans — nor Trump — during the Obama era

Matthew Rozsa
March 24, 2017 7:44PM (UTC)

Republicans may have spent the better part of President Barack Obama's administration obsessed about the importance of the debt ceiling, but that hasn't stopped President Donald Trump's Treasury secretary from denigrating the very notion that debt ceilings matter.

When talking to Axios on Friday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin referred to the debt ceiling as a "somewhat ridiculous concept." He also told Axios' Mike Allen, "This isn't limit of what we can spend, it's a payment limitation." He also insisted that Congress should raise the debt ceiling before its summer recess.


"The debt limit was invented nearly 100 years ago to free Congress from having to approve each new debt issuance," Christopher Matthews of Axios explained. "Instead, it gives Treasury the freedom to issue debt up to a certain level to make the financing of already approved spending more efficient."

The debt ceiling featured prominently in American politics during the fall of 2013, when congressional Republicans triggered a government shutdown for 16 days in their effort to gut President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. This came on the heels of similar talk about using the debt ceiling as a political tool, particularly in 2011 and 2012 — and Donald Trump had been very much in favor of doing so at the time.

During the 2013 showdown, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas argued on CNN's "State of the Union" that "the debt ceiling historically has been among the best leverage that Congress has to rein in the executive." He wasn't the only one making a big deal about it four years ago.


Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, was also at that time dismissive of the need for raising the debt ceiling, telling "CBS This Morning," "I would dispel the rumor that is going around that you hear on every newscast that if we don’t raise the debt ceiling, we will default on our debt. We won’t."

Yet another Republican, Rep. Luke Messer of Indiana, articulated back then his ideas about the debt ceiling for CNN: "The leverage of the debt ceiling has been the times when we’ve come together as a nation and worked to pass plans that would reduce spending."

Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a breaking news writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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Debt Ceiling Donald Trump Steve Mnuchin

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