U.S. to soon reach debt limit ceiling of $14.3 trillion
HOUSTON But as the president and Republicans begin battling over this issue, there's another major budget problem looming -- one that will impact all of us. Amidst the discussion about the federal budget for this year and next, there is also a lot of talk about the federal debt ceiling, the amount of money the country can borrow legally. Right now it's at $14.3 trillion. It's a number we're rapidly approaching. So the federal government has two options. One of them is that they could default on the debt by not raising the debt ceiling and not paying their bills, or raise the limit, which it seems Congress may in fact do. Amidst the hustle at the end of a workday, we found the Joneses with newspapers in hand, looking for work. "Right now we are unemployed and we're struggling. Really, really struggling," Carlton Jones said. In the year since they both lost their jobs -- when their employer went out of business -- the national debt has increased $1.5 trillion. It's to the point that lawmakers now have to increase the legal debt limit. And the Joneses don't understand it. "I'm not educated that way or anything, but to me it just seems like there's got to be some better way to do this," Misty Jones said. "I don't know exactly what it would be. Don't they have a room somewhere of guys sitting around thinking up ways to do things better?" If Congress does not vote to increase the debt, any number of things could happen. Doomsdayers say you wouldn't be able to borrow money for cars or new homes, your credit lines would be cut off and even ATMs might not spit out money that belongs to you. "In some sense that's a train-wreck scenario," University of Houston economics professor Steven Craig. Craig says Congress really has two choices in front of it as debt keeps climbing. "The way you solve the deficit problem is by either cutting spending or raising taxes. Those are the only two things the government can do," he said. The chance of Congress not increasing the debt limit, however, is next to none. "In the simplest terms, we've spent the money. Are we gonna pay our bill? Are we gonna pay the Visa card when it comes in? And the answer is yes," said Rick Kaplan with Legacy Asset Management. When we, as consumers spend more money than we have, it's often because we're keeping up with Joneses. But the longer Congress keeps doing it, it's the Joneses who say they can't keep up. The U.S. Department of Treasury says we'll reach the $14.3 trillion limit by May 16. But late Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said he is confident congress will pass that increase.