Although the 114th Congress is just getting settled, it will have to move quickly to address a series of deadlines with serious policy and fiscal consequences. These "Fiscal Speed Bumps" present serious challenges and risks but also opportunities for policymakers, as we explain in a new paper.
The paper lays out the seven speed bumps -- six this year and one in 2016 -- that policymakers will have to (or should) address this year, what policymakers have usually done in the past, and the consequences of inaction for each. These speed bumps are:
- Expiration of the CR funding Homeland Security (February 27, 2015)
- Reinstatement of the debt ceiling (March 16, 2015/Fall 2015)
- Expiration of the “doc fix” and return of the SGR (March 31, 2015)
- Expiration of the highway bill, insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund (May 31, 2015)
- Expiration of 2015 appropriations, return of sequestration (October 1, 2015)
- Deadline to renew tax extenders retroactively (December 31, 2015)
- Insolvency of the Social Security Disability Insurance Trust Fund (late 2016)
One of the wonkier fiscal debates that arises from time to time concerns the accounting method used to measure the size of the budget deficit. This week, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published an online primer that explains the different ways to measure the deficit and what these measures say about the government’s fiscal health.
With the debt ceiling having been reinstated last Friday, lawmakers are scrambling to come up with legislation to lift or suspend it again before extraordinary measures likely run out by the end of the month. Originally, House Republicans had planned on attaching a repeal of the military retirement cost-of-living adjustment reduction for people who joined the service prior to 2014 to a debt ceiling suspension through March 15 of next year.
In order to avoid bumping up against the statutory debt ceiling, the Department of the Treasury has begun undertaking a number of so-called "extraordinary measures." The current debt limit is $17.211 trillion.
Yesterday, we updated our Q&A: Everything You Needed To Know About the Debt Ceiling to reflect the newest date for the debt ceiling, which will be reinstated after February 7. The debt ceiling was suspended in mid-October, following a partial government shutdown, and will be reinstated on Friday. This suspension will result in a de facto $600 billion increase, putting the new debt ceiling at approximately $17.3 trillion.
When Congress ended the government shutdown last October, they also suspended the debt ceiling through February 7th, which is now only a week away. After that date, the debt limit will be reinstated at about $17.3 trillion, according to estimates from the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC). After that date, Treasury can still use "extraordinary measures" to continue paying the nation's bills for a limited amount of time.
Given the nature of debt ceiling politics lately, estimating when the federal government will start defaulting on obligations has become a common, multiple-times-a-year occurrence.
With President Obama's signature on Thursday morning, the nation went from the brink of default to having a least a little elbow room on the debt ceiling for a few months. The actual date on which the nation would default (the "X date") is uncertain given the question of whether extraordinary measures will be available, but the bill will at least prevent a breach of the debt ceiling through February 7.
After a few weeks of government shutdown and a nerve-wracking lead-up to hitting the debt ceiling, the Senate leadership announced today it had come to an agreement to resolve the current crisis. Under this deal the government would be funded through January 15 at the FY 2013 level of $986 billion and the debt ceiling would be suspended through February 7 (though extraordinary measures would extend the default date past then). The leaders have also agreed to set up a budget conference committee that would be instructed to report recommendations by December 13.