We might as well stop calling debt limit measures ‘extraordinary’

On Thursday, the United States reached the statutory limit on its ability to incur debt needed to pay its obligations. That’s a dry, dull articulation of what’s happening,

but you were probably able to parse it pretty easily, given that you’ve read some variation on it so many times over the past few years. The country has a limit on how much debt

it can accrue and, when that limit is reached, the government has of late either simply shrugged and lifted the limit entirely for a while or collapsed into paroxysms of partisan

hostility over how much it should be raised. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen has assured legislators that the government can undertake extraordinary measures to pay

its bills for at least a little while, giving Congress a now-familiar window in which to figure out the shape of those paroxysms. But we might as well stop calling these measures

“extraordinary,” given that they are now just about as normal as the debt limit itself. Sign up for How To Read This Chart, a weekly data newsletter from Philip Bump

Before 2011, the process of raising the debt limit was pro forma. The government would set a limit (as it has for more than a century) and then it added to its debt to pay bills

that Congress had approved. When the limit proved insufficient, Congress voted to raise it and the process repeated.