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What Happens Next within the Debt Limit Debate?


America hit a limit this week on how much money it could borrow, forcing the Treasury Department to initiate so-called extraordinary measures to be certain that the nation has enough money to meet its financial obligations.

Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen has told lawmakers that those measures will allow america to maintain paying military salaries, retiree advantages and interest to bondholders through not less than early June.

But initiating those extraordinary measures is just step one in a series of moves that may happen because the Treasury tries to maintain america from defaulting on its debt. Ultimately, it is going to be as much as Congress to make your mind up whether to let the country borrow extra money or allow it to default on its debt by failing to pay investors who expect interest and other payments.

At stake is the fate of the U.S. economy, which could face a financial crisis and fall right into a deep recession if lawmakers cannot reach an agreement.

Among the many looming questions is when america will hit the so-called X-date — the purpose at which the federal government can not find creative ways to remain beneath the $31.4 trillion debt limit and might want to borrow extra money or fail to pay its bills.

The opposite big query: Will Congress comply with raise the borrowing cap?

To this point, House Republicans have vowed to oppose any increase within the debt limit without spending cuts. President Biden has said the debt limit must be raised without conditions.

But ahead of a potentially protracted fight to make sure that america doesn’t default on its debt, Mr. Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California individually confirmed that they planned to satisfy to debate tips on how to raise the debt limit.

Understand the U.S. Debt Ceiling

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What’s the debt ceiling? The debt ceiling, also called the debt limit, is a cap on the overall amount of cash that the federal government is permitted to borrow via U.S. Treasury securities, resembling bills and savings bonds, to meet its financial obligations. Because america runs budget deficits, it must borrow huge sums of cash to pay its bills.

The limit has been hit. What now? America hit its technical debt limit on Jan. 19. The Treasury Department will now begin using “extraordinary measures” to proceed paying the federal government’s obligations. These measures are essentially fiscal accounting tools that curb certain government investments in order that the bills proceed to be paid. Those options might be exhausted by June.

What’s at stake? Once the federal government exhausts its extraordinary measures and runs out of money, it could be unable to issue latest debt and pay its bills. The federal government could wind up defaulting on its debt whether it is unable to make required payments to its bondholders. Such a scenario could be economically devastating and will plunge the globe right into a financial crisis.

Can the federal government do anything to forestall disaster? There isn’t a official playbook for what Washington can do. But options do exist. The Treasury could attempt to prioritize payments, resembling paying bondholders first. If america does default on its debt, which might rattle the markets, the Federal Reserve could theoretically step in to purchase a few of those Treasury bonds.

Why is there a limit on U.S. borrowing? In response to the Structure, Congress must authorize borrowing. The debt limit was instituted within the early twentieth century in order that the Treasury wouldn’t have to ask for permission every time it needed to issue debt to pay bills.

Listed below are among the key moments to expect over the subsequent few months.

The White House is predicted to unveil its annual budget proposal in early March, outlining Mr. Biden’s spending priorities. That might function a gap bid for any negotiations between the Biden administration and Republicans in Congress, who’ve been calling for spending cuts and are prone to seize on this document as evidence of what they are saying is “runaway spending.”

In a letter to Congress on Thursday, Ms. Yellen said she was initiating a “debt issuance suspension period” that may last through June 5. Consequently, the Treasury Department will not be investing funds for certain federal health and retirement plans.

Ms. Yellen will almost definitely send additional letters to lawmakers with updates on how far more time she should buy with those extraordinary measures. She may also outline additional actions the Treasury can take to remain under the $31.4 trillion debt cap.

That might include suspending the every day reinvestment of securities held by the Treasury’s Exchange Stabilization Fund, a bucket of cash that should buy and sell currencies and supply financing to foreign governments, or temporarily moving money between government agencies and departments to make payments as they arrive due.

How Times reporters cover politics. We depend on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they should not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.

Congressional motion on the debt limit has increasingly waited until after the Treasury Department is near exhausting its extraordinary measures.

In 2021, the last time the federal government hit the debt ceiling, Senate Republicans and Democrats agreed to a short-term extension of the borrowing cap lower than two weeks before a default. Two months later, because the Treasury warned that it could breach the statutory limit on its ability to borrow, Congress gave its final approval to a measure that may raise the debt ceiling by $2.5 trillion.

Such a deal faces tougher odds this time around.

Mr. McCarthy has called on the Biden administration and congressional Democrats to barter spending cuts so as to win Republican support within the House for raising the debt limit. “We’ve got to alter the way in which we’re spending money wastefully on this country,” he said this month, “and we’re going to be certain that that happens.”

Mr. Biden, speaking on the White House on Friday, said there could be “honest debates” over tips on how to confront the nation’s ballooning debt. He said he planned to boost it in his upcoming State of the Union address, along with meeting with Mr. McCarthy.

“I accept your invitation to sit down down and discuss a responsible debt ceiling increase to deal with irresponsible government spending,” Mr. McCarthy said after, in an announcement posted on Twitter. “I stay up for our meeting.”

Democrats, including Senator Chuck Schumer of Recent York, the bulk leader, have thus far resisted the prospect of negotiations that force substantial reductions in spending or cuts to Medicare and Social Security.

Yet Democrats is probably not aligned on the necessity to pass a debt ceiling increase without addressing the budget deficit. Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a centrist Democrat, has signaled some support for reining in some spending as Congress considers raising the debt limit.

In mapping out the possible avenues for Congress to resolve the impasse over the debt ceiling, officials and aides have raised the potential for using a procedural tool within the House often known as the discharge petition. That scenario could allow rank-and-file Republicans to advance laws that Mr. McCarthy and other Republican leaders in the bulk don’t support in the event that they align themselves with Democrats.

But while the mechanism “will be used to deal with several different bottlenecks within the legislative process,” Molly Reynolds, a senior fellow in governance studies on the Brookings Institution, cautioned that “it’s not an especially elegant strategy.”

The method is arduous and politically fraught, provided that it undercuts the authority of the House speaker and procedural control of the ground. Lawmakers would must decide on a measure that has the support of enough Republicans and Democrats — and will secure 60 votes within the Senate — and send that measure to a committee.

Lawmakers must then let the measure sit with the committee for 30 legislative days when the Home is in session, a period that would stretch for months depending on the chamber’s schedule. Lawmakers must then collect 218 public signatures on the petition — meaning that not less than a handful of Republicans may have to hitch every Democrat in publicly going against their party leaders.

Once those signatures have been collected, a lawmaker must wait seven additional legislative days before declaring an intent to bring the measure to the House floor for a vote. That formal notice essentially requires the speaker to then schedule a vote inside two legislative days.

But due to how long the method drags on and the political implications of Republicans forging a public alliance with Democrats against the vast majority of their conference, it’s removed from guaranteed that the parliamentary tool might be used to avoid a default.

It has not been successfully used since 2015, when the House voted to reopen the federal Export-Import Bank and the Republicans who joined Democrats to back the measure had the implicit support of the departing speaker, John A. Boehner, just before his resignation. But the specter of momentum behind a petition has often proved to be enough to pressure party leaders to carry votes on laws they otherwise wouldn’t consider.

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