Now that the tax portion of the fiscal cliff mess has been resolved — for now, at least — the next major dispute will likely be over raising the debt ceiling. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said last month that although the federal government reached its debt limit Dec. 31, he could finagle another two months or so by taking so-called “extraordinary measures.” That implied the government could keep running as-is until the end of February.
It turns out those measures may not be all that extraordinary. The Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank that studies budgetary matters, just put out an analysis of the government’s finances that concluded it could run out of money as soon as Feb. 15. That would be just slightly more than a month-and-a-half — not the two months Geithner hoped for. To be sure, that’s just a worst-case scenario — BPC said the government may be able to keep operating until March 1, depending on factors such as how much revenue the government brings in.
But the point is, time is tight. And if the debt ceiling mess isn’t resolved soon, we could be looking at a partial government shutdown.
Oh, and the BPC report throws cold water on all the people hoping for a deus ex machina solution to the debt ceiling mess. There are “no silver bullets” to extend the date, it says. It cites two quotes from President Obama and his spokesman that the 14th Amendment doesn’t allow him to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling, as much as Democrats like Nancy Pelosi might like him to.
And minting a magical $1 trillion platinum coin to give the government more borrowing room — as has been repeatedly proposed over the last year — would be “impractical, illegal, and/or inappropriate,” the BPC said. Although, I’m not quite sure what their problem is. As The Simpsons showed us, nothing can go wrong with a trillion-dollar bill as long as you keep it out of the hands of Fidel Castro.
More evidence–as if more were needed–that this government spending standoff is getting serious: the Office of Management and Budget has just posted a 16-page memo for shutdown planning on its web site. Lots of technical advice for agencies on topics like travel, IT operations and contracting.
The latest stopgap spending resolution expires at midnight Friday. If Congress appears unlikely to enact a new one Saturday, OMB will issue instructions the same day “for agencies to proceed with their shutdown implementation,” Director Jack Lew wrote in the memo. On one burning question, OMB leaves it up to agencies to decide whether furloughed employees will have to turn in their BlackBerries.