If the debt ceiling isn’t raised, the federal government will run out of money somewhere between Oct. 22 and Nov. 1.
People have been talking a lot about Oct. 17. That’s the day the Treasury Department expects to exhaust “extraordinary measures” that allow the government to finance itself without issuing Treasury bonds, such as borrowing from various government trust funds.
But even when that happens, the federal government will have about $US30 billion in cash left on hand, and every day it will collect more revenue. That means it will be able to go a few more days, or possibly as long as two weeks, without missing payments.
The Bipartisan Policy Center
has projecteddaily cash inflows and outflows and has narrowed the possible range for the “X date” — the first day the government can’t make all its payments due — as Oct. 22 to Nov. 1.
Most days in late October, the government will be sending out a little more money than it takes in. But even if we make it all the way to the end of the month, there’s no way we’ll be able to make the approximately $US55 billion in payments that are due on Nov. 1, when Social Security benefits, Medicare provider payments, active duty military pay and military pensions are all scheduled to go out.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we should let the debt ceiling crisis run right up to Oct. 22. These figures are just projections, and the government could be surprised by unexpectedly low receipts or high payment needs on any given day. It’s like if you kept just a few hundred dollars in your checking account — you’d risk bouncing checks.
And the failure to raise the debt ceiling is already causing a modest rise in interest rates, which means higher borrowing costs every time the Treasury rolls over outstanding bonds. Last time we made this mess, in 2011, BPC estimates that unnecessarily higher interest rates cost taxpayers $US18.9 billion. The costs this time would likely be higher as there’s 17% more debt outstanding than two years ago.
But those costs pale in comparison to the potential costs of a financial crisis if the federal government actually misses a payment. It’s just one more reason Congress should stop screwing around and pass a clean debt limit increase.
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