It's hard to think of a worse case of false advertising than the ridiculously misnamed U.S. "debt limit." And while it's getting little attention, that supposed "limit" is about to rise by $1.2 trillion -- from $15.2 trillion to $16.4 trillion.
The increase in federal borrowing is part of a deal -- pushed by Democrats and reluctantly agreed to by Republicans earlier this year -- to raise the debt limit in three stages. This is one of those "stages."
What makes the almost casual increase in the debt limit particularly cynical is that it is virtually guaranteed to provide enough money to the federal government so that President Barack Obama and Congress can get past next November's elections without having to address the debt limit issue again. Even if the increase doesn't provide quite enough money to get past November, the Treasury Department will have the authority to undertake "special measures" -- meaning shell games -- to ensure that lawmakers and the president won't forthrightly have to confront the issue of their reckless spending prior to the elections.
But the issue isn't going away just because Washington ignores it. Once a new Congress and, we hope, a new president are in office in 2013, the United States will still have to face the fact that federal spending has grown far beyond any sensible level. But then the debt will be even larger than it is today, and the decisions that will have to be made to deal with it will be even more painful.
Fiscal reality will have its due -- sooner or later, one way or another. Budget gimmicks in Washington can't change that.