Thomas Donlan of Barron’s explores an expected frenzy over the latest vote to raise the federal government’s debt ceiling.

… [M]any more scary proclamations are coming, from deficit hawks among the Republican members of the House and Senate, resentful members of the Democratic minorities, the belligerent president of the U.S., and panicky investors.

We will hear from all of them many times before the U.S. enacts a new debt ceiling, because the loudest, most negligent threats generate the most political leverage. The capital city’s remaining reasonable people will be treated like 19th century children—to be seen but not heard.

In the coming crisis, Mnuchin wants a simple bill addressing the debt limit only, while a significant coterie of congressional Republicans wants to attach a tax reform bill, or maybe other legislation important to them. With Republicans undecided and divided, any bill will need support from some Democrats, and they are sitting on the sidelines enjoying themselves.

Be sure to understand that the debt ceiling isn’t really a ceiling in the usual sense: The government hit the real ceiling last March. Since then, the Treasury has been playing with the paperwork so that new bills, notes, and bonds could limbo their way under the debt limit.

Congress has already legislated spending in excess of its revenue, but the bills don’t come due as fast as the country incurs new fiscal obligations.

So Treasury manages the funding gap, mostly by not paying certain obligations within the government. We call that cooking the books, but the Treasury public relations office prefers to refer to “extraordinary measures.”