Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Hazard of Fighting over the Deck Chairs as the Ship Sinks

The lively performance this year of that theater of the absurd classic "The Annual Federal Budget Negotiations" has captured our attention while the more nebulous (yet potentially catastrophic) event, the default of the U.S. government on its debt, is looming ever closer. The so-called debt ceiling is a self-inflicted limit (see excerpt of Treasury Secretary Lew's October 1 letter to Congressional leaders  below). In any case, if the bankruptcy of Lehman taught us anything it is that the world is a lot more connected than we expect it to be. For an overview of the possible fallout:

CBO and other agencies and analysts estimate that the Treasury could have until Halloween before the ceiling is hit but the default occurs when the Secretary and the President say it does.
October 1, 2013
I am writing to follow up on my previous letters regarding the Department of the Treasury's responsibility to finance the government and to protect the full faith and credit of the United States. In May of this year, the U.S. government reached the statutory debt limit, and Treasury began taking certain extraordinary measures to be able to continue, on a temporary basis, to pay the nation's bills. Today, I am writing to inform Congress that as of today Treasury has begun using the final extraordinary measures. There are no other legal and prudent options to extend the nation's borrowing authority. The impact of these measures was incorporated into the forecast that I shared with you last week, and Treasury continues to believe that extraordinary measures will be exhausted no later than October 17, 2013. Each of these measures is authorized by law, and each has been used by previous Secretaries of the Treasury during past debt limit impasses: Treasury will suspend, as necessary, the daily reinvestment of the portion of the Exchange Stabilization Fund that is invested in Treasury securities. Treasury will enter into a debt swap with the Federal Financing Bank and the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund (CSRDF), which will lead to the elimination of a limited amount of debt that counts against the debt limit...It is important to note that once the final extraordinary measures are exhausted, no later than October 17, we will be left to meet our country's commitments at that time with only approximately $30 billion. This amount would be far short of net expenditures on certain days, which can be as high as $60 billion.  

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