The national debt has been frozen at about $18.15 trillion for almost six months, according to the U.S. Treasury.
Did Congress accidentally balance the budget?
The debt ceiling was suspended, relying almost exclusively on Democrats to pass, with only 28 House Republicans in support.
Since then, the debt has stood seemingly frozen, with the Treasury utilizing future federal retirement benefits to meet obligations in the interim. When the debt ceiling is lifted, so too will these extraordinary measures, and the debt will jump upward by hundreds of billions of dollars.
In July, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew had said raiding the retirement funds would run out at the end of October. But the Congressional Budget Office has since reported that due to higher than anticipated revenue, the decision may be able to be forestalled until November or December.
This makes a short-term continuing resolution more likely, reports the Washington Post: “Having more time before the debt limit is hit could also increase the chances that Congress will try to wrap all of its remaining fiscal work into one year-end deal, which many lawmakers are expecting to be the case.”
Which could mean that a short-term continuing resolution extending so-called discretionary spending past the end of the month could be on the horizon.
This might give Congressional leaders two, potentially three bites at the apple to add important legislative riders to these vital spending bills to advance the policy goals of members in the Republican majority.
Yet, on the other hand, if Congress combines everything into a catch-all spending-and-borrowing bill at the end of the calendar year, President Obama could have all the leverage he needs to simultaneously threaten default and a government shutdown on the eve of presidential primaries. This might be enough to block any serious reforms.
After all, that is exactly what happened in 2013 when continuing resolution negotiations over the fate of Obamacare ran into the jaws of the debt ceiling. After a brief partial government shutdown, and Obama threatening default, the two issues were combined — and nothing was accomplished to rein in the health care law.
Earlier this year, when it came to defunding executive amnesty, Obama did not even need to threaten default. Fear of a government shutdown was enough to back Republicans off of the effort and grant the Department of Homeland Security all the money it needed to implement the Obama’s executive order conferring legal status on illegal immigrants with U.S.-born children.
To navigate the terrain and get anything done, the threat of default needs to be taken off the table. In the least, congressional leaders must separate the debt ceiling from the spending bill — and keep them separate — denying Obama the leverage he seeks to blackmail Congress.
Otherwise the White House will be able to shape the debate, wherein a “clean” bill is defined only as one where all of the administration’s priorities are funded, and the debt ceiling — the only legal limit on debt — is increased, suspended, or just eliminated altogether.
This is a guest post by Robert Romano senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.