Ben Carson doesn’t know what the debt ceiling is

I thought I was done with Ben Carson for today, but this is too important to give him a pass. He doesn’t know what the debt limit is, and that’s a problem.

In an interview with NPR’s Kai Ryssdal, Carson outlined his plan for balancing the budget by allowing the government to “shrink by attrition,” calling for a freeze on federal expenditures and staffing for three to four years and requiring each federal agency to make corresponding cuts. To hear Carson tell it, this would keep the government at the same nominal levels of funding and eventually balance the budget when the economy grew and tax revenues caught up.

While that policy would be a disaster, it at least carries some reference to reality. The same can’t be said for Carson’s answer as to what he’d do about the federal debt ceiling:

Ryssdal: All right, so let’s talk about debt then and the budget. As you know, Treasury Secretary Lew has come out in the last couple of days and said, “We’re gonna run out of money, we’re gonna run out of borrowing authority, on the fifth of November.” Should the Congress then and the president not raise the debt limit? Should we default on our debt?

Carson: Let me put it this way: if I were the president, I would not sign an increased budget. Absolutely would not do it. They would have to find a place to cut.

Ryssdal: To be clear, it’s increasing the debt limit, not the budget, but I want to make sure I understand you. You’d let the United States default rather than raise the debt limit.

Carson: No, I would provide the kind of leadership that says, “Get on the stick guys, and stop messing around, and cut where you need to cut, because we’re not raising any spending limits, period.”

Ryssdal: I’m gonna try one more time, sir. This is debt that’s already obligated. Would you not favor increasing the debt limit to pay the debts already incurred?

Ben Carson, via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Ben Carson, via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Carson: What I’m saying is what we have to do is restructure the way that we create debt. I mean if we continue along this, where does it stop? It never stops. You’re always gonna ask the same question every year. And we’re just gonna keep going down that pathway. That’s one of the things I think that the people are tired of.

Ryssdal: I’m really trying not to be circular here, Dr. Carson, but if you’re not gonna raise the debt limit and you’re not gonna give specifics on what you’re gonna cut, then how are we going to know what you are going to do as president of the United States?

Carson: OK, let me try to explain it in a different way. If, in fact, we have a number of different areas that are contributing to the increasing expenditures and the continued expenditures that are putting us further and further into the hole. You’re familiar I’m sure with the concept of the fiscal gap.

Ryssdal takes four cracks at getting Carson to indicate that he at least knows what the debt ceiling is, and Carson never engages. He will solve our debt crisis with “leadership,” which means both not defaulting on our debt but also not paying any additional debt.

As much as people hate politicians and the governing class, it’s actually pretty damn important that whoever we elect as president at least understands how the government works. Especially something both as basic and as critical as the debt ceiling. Republicans have been playing off of the idea that the debt ceiling is the same thing as the budget since President Obama took office, using this totally not-optional commitment as leverage to extract massive spending cuts. In 2011, they nearly caused us to default on our debt, which led our credit rating to be downgraded.

So while Carson may be woefully uninformed about the debt ceiling, and while he almost certainly will not win the Republican nomination, his position matters in that it isn’t too far removed from a lot of Republican politicians who know better. A lot of what he says is daffy to the point at which it’s funny. This isn’t.

(h/t Kevin Drum / Mother Jones)


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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6 Responses to “Ben Carson doesn’t know what the debt ceiling is”

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  2. JaneE says:

    I don’t know if Carson knows what the debt ceiling is or not. I am quite certain that some, if not most, of the GOP in Congress do know. They choose to buy now and refuse to pay later, because their goal is to collapse this country and create chaos so they can re-create our government the way they want it to be.

  3. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    Let’s be fair. Someone did explain the debt ceiling to him, but he was smoking weed at the time.

  4. BeccaM says:

    Carson and the rest of the GOPers have gone so far to the radical right, even basic knowledge of how the government works is not only not necessary, it’s deemed a liability for a Republican candidate. The contest now seems to be whoever can make up the most compelling wingnut fantasy story — and apparently it’s those candidates which are the most unencumbered with experience or accurate information.

    The way I see it, too, is the Republicans have already proven their willingness to engage in extortion and blackmail to get what they want.

  5. keirmeister says:

    Republicans are fucking stupid. I mean…WHY are these people not getting shunned and laughed off the stage? It’s like the media is ENJOYING wrecking our country by pretending these turnips are legitimate or remotely qualified.

    Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Sarah Palin….these clowns get rich by behaving stupidly. AARGH!

    I don’t expect the majority of Americans to really understand what the Debt Ceiling is. But if you’re running for frakken President, we should expect you to have some basic notion of a topic that is CURRENTLY IN THE NEWS!

    Sweet Christ I’m getting tired of this crap.

  6. Ol' Hippy says:

    Welcome to the theater of the absurd, the GOP. Seriously, are these people really running for the office of the leader of the free world? I thought the height of the cold war was scary, and it was, but this time it’s like watching children fighting to see who can get in the best space in the sandbox ON ACID!!! I’d laugh if it wasn’t so damn real seeming.

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