The debt limit was “suspended” in the last debt limit deal struck by Congress and the President on October 17th, and will come back on February 8th – at which point we’ll be basically at the debt limit. The Treasury Department will then resort to “extraordinary measures” that they’ve used to delay debt-day in the past. February is a month in which the federal government typically spends a lot and doesn’t take in a whole lot of tax revenue, so those “extraordinary measures” likely won’t last as long as they have previously.
The Bipartisan Policy Center has put out their most recent estimation of what they call the “X Date” for the debt limit, and estimate that it will hit as early as February 28th or as late as March 25th. That leaves the federal government with, at minimum, a month to deal with the impending limit.
The BPC report also finds that a March Treasury auction might increase the costs of debt servicing, which would accelerate the X Date:
BPC now projects that the X Date will likely occur between February 28 and March 25. However, even under a very optimistic scenario, the government would be less than $5 billion away from the X Date on March 14. To put this in perspective, one day’s spending in March would typically be more than $10 billion. As such, there is a high probability that the X Date could occur on or in the days before March 14. If Treasury is able to get past Friday, March 14 without exhausting cash-on-hand, receipt of corporate income taxes due on Monday, March 17 could buy another week or so. But a scenario in which the X-Date occurs after March is extremely unlikely.
As of late January, Treasury is scheduled to roll-over about $250 billion of maturing securities in the month of March, and this amount will increase as Treasury schedules additional short-term auctions in the days ahead. As the X Date approaches without action on the debt limit, one risk is that buyers of government debt will be less likely to participate in Treasury auctions and, for those that continue to participate, more likely to demand higher interest rates, increasing the cost of servicing the existing debt.
Politico reported this week that Republicans are likely to cave on the debt limit with either minimal concessions or just a straight up clean debt limit hike. Politico quoted Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) as saying that since they finished the Patty Murray-Paul Ryan budget, they “knew that you were going to get a clean debt ceiling.”
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told lawmakers last week that he estimated we’d hit the hard debt ceiling in February rather than in March.