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The Debt Ceiling Is Greece & Lehman Brothers…In Reverse

US Capitol Building with cash
US Capitol Building with cash

The market stubbornly refused to follow the playbook today.

We were supposed to be in the midst of a panic, with everything freezing or selling off as markets opened with no debt deal in sight.

But the weekend of worry didn’t lead into a manic panic Monday. The Dow industrial average is down modestly, Treasury yields crept up a bit. But nothing like the Armageddon many expected.

What a lot of those watching the debt debacle unfold have missed is that the debt situation in the U.S. is nothing like that faced by Greece. It’s nothing like the problem that broke Bear Stearns or Lehman Brothers.

In fact, it’s the opposite.

Bear and Lehman had a serious problem: The market declared them dead.

They were not able to fund their operations at almost any price. No one would lend them a dime. Greece was headed down the same road until everyone became convinced that the Eurocrats would keep extending the sovereign debt safety net.

That’s not the problem faced by the U.S. The markets are rushing to lend money to the U.S. government.

Interest rates are at stunningly low levels.

What's really giving everyone jitters is that the U.S. may be forced not to borrow. Got that? The markets aren’t shutting off the flow of credit to the U.S. The U.S. is threatening to remove its bucket from the credit spigot.

This is why we’re going to keep getting surprised by events. We’re used to thinking about one kind of debt crisis—and we’re going through a very different kind of debt crisis.

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  • Jeff Cox is finance editor for CNBC.com.

  • Lawrence Develingne

    Lawrence Delevingne is the ‘Big Money’ enterprise reporter for CNBC.com and NetNet.

  • Stephanie Landsman is one of the producers of "Fast Money."

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