Everything You Need to Know About the Debt Ceiling

The debt ceiling is a terrifying, confusing, amorphous monster. But there's a slide show that can at least give you everything you need to know about it.

We're not even totally in the clear on a shutdown over funding the government, but Congress is already onto the next fiscal crisis. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew sent a letter to Congress on Wednesday saying that if Congress doesn't act to raise the debt ceiling, the government will be left with just $30 billion in cash. "If we have insufficient cash on hand," Lew wrote, "it would be impossible for the United States of America to meet all of its obligations for the first time in our history."

This is something to be legitimately frightened about. House Republicans, while they look as if they are getting ready to retreat on the budget fight, are gearing up to go very, very hard on the debt limit. It's impossible for congressional leadership to say how this will end, much less your humble media prognosticator.

But how exactly did we get here? And what exactly could we be looking at? The Bipartisan Policy Center has put together a slide show with literally anything you could possibly want to know about the mechanics of the debt limit, how the government has been able to hold off on "extraordinary measures" for this long, and why October could be a fiscal apocalypse.

The center, even after Lew's letter, is predicting that the U.S. government will no longer be able to meet its financial obligations between October 18 and November 5. Here's why.