Maxing out the national credit card

Once again, for the fifth time since President Bush took office, it’s time to raise the limit on the national debt, and once again Congress is letting it go until the last minute.

Fortunately, the Senate Finance Committee this week approved by voice vote an $850 billion increase in the government’s ability to borrow, bringing the new debt limit to $9.82 trillion.

These debt limit increases are not controversial measures and they have to be passed, but Congress always seems to inject a little extra drama into what should be routine. After all, the borrowing goes to pay for programs the lawmakers approved.

The House approved raising the debt ceiling last spring, and now it’s the Senate’s turn. The AP reports “leaders of both parties are likely to try to orchestrate smooth passage of the measure.”

Let’s hope so. Senate Democrats will point out that with this latest increase the national debt under President Bush will have increased by 70 percent, over $4 trillion. All true and fair political game.

But Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has warned Congress that the government will hit the current $8.97 trillion borrowing limit in early October. Paulson can stretch that out for a while by juggling accounts and deferring certain obligations but this kind of sleight-of-hand is unseemly in the world’s largest economy.

With the dollar weakening and the world wondering what’s going on in the U.S. housing market, this is no time to be making the world’s already jittery financial markets even more nervous. Just raise the ceiling quickly and quietly.