Overview of the Debt Limit and Extraordinary Measures

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Congressional Budget Office October 16, 2015 Overview of the Debt Limit and Extraordinary Measures Presentation to Congressional Staff Meredith Decker Associate Analyst, Budget Analysis Division This presentation provides information on the material published in Federal Debt and the Statutory Limit, October 2015. See www.cbo.gov/publication/50888.

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Introduction ■ Overview of the Debt Limit/Current Debt Limit ■ Components of the Debt Limit ■ Treasury Procedures and Extraordinary Measures ■ Cash Flows and Debt Issuance ■ CBO Estimate and Ramifications of Not Raising the Debt Limit CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE 1

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Overview of the Debt Limit ■ Limits federal borrowing ■ Around in some form since 1917 ■ Modified 14 times since 2001 ■ Raising the debt limit enables the government to pay the bills it has already incurred; it does not, by itself, change future tax or spending policies CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE 2

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Current Debt Limit ■ Temporary Debt Limit Extension Act (Public Law 113-83): – Suspended the debt limit from February 15, 2014, through March 15, 2015 – Reset limit to $18.113 trillion ■ Debt limit previously reset at $17.212 trillion after suspension period expired on February 4, 2014 CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE 3

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Recent Modifications to Debt Limit CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE 4

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Composition of Debt Limit ■ Outstanding debt subject to limit on October 8: – $13.0 trillion in debt held by the public – $5.1 trillion in debt held by government accounts CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE 5

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Debt Held by the Public ■ Consists mainly of securities issued by Treasury to raise cash to fund government activities ■ Measures the cumulative net amount the federal government has borrowed over time ■ Two types of securities: – Marketable – Non-marketable CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE 6

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Debt Held By the Public (cont’d) CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE 7

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Debt Held By Government Accounts ■ Government Account Series (GAS) securities ■ Represent internal transactions of the government (does not affect the credit markets) ■ When a trust fund receives cash not immediately needed, Treasury issues GAS securities ■ When trust fund expenses are greater than revenues, Treasury redeems GAS securities CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE 8

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Debt Held By Government Accounts (cont’d) ■ Largest Holders (as of August 31, 2015) – Social Security Trust Funds ($2.8 trillion) – Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund ($731 billion) – Military Retirement Fund ($534 billion) – Medicare Trust Funds ($255 billion) CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE 9

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When the Treasury Reaches the Debt Limit ■ Treasury issues a letter to Congress declaring a debt issuance suspension period ■ Treasury employs extraordinary measures ■ Current debt issuance suspension period ends October 30 CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE 10

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Extraordinary Measures ■ Suspend investments of the Thrift Savings Plan’s G Fund and Exchange Stabilization Fund ■ Suspend the issuance of new securities and semiannual interest payments to the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund (CSRDF) and Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Fund ■ Redeem early securities held by the CSRDF and Postal Benefits Fund equal in value to expected benefit payments ■ Suspend issuance of State and Local Government (SLGS) securities ■ Exchange debt subject to limit for Federal Financing Bank (FFB) debt CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE 11

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Schedule of Cash Flows and Debt Issuance ■ The amount of debt accumulated depends on the size of the deficit and internal government transactions throughout the year – Federal cash flows – Debt issuance CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE 12

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Schedule of Federal Cash Flows ■ Regular large payments: – Medicare – Social Security – Active duty pay and benefits, veterans’ benefits, Supplemental Security Income – Interest ■ Relatively steady deposits in October and November CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE 13

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Schedule of Debt Issuance ■ Treasury Auctions – Bills: every Thursday – Notes: 15th and last day of month – Bonds: mid-month – Inflation-protected securities: end of month ■ GAS Securities – Dominated by trust funds – Large interest payments in June and December to trust funds CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE 14

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Exhausting the Extraordinary Measures and Cash Balance ■ CBO projects: – Low cash balance in early November – Exhaustion of extraordinary measures and cash in first half of November ■ Exact date depends primarily on cash flows in next month CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE 15

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If the Debt Limit is Not Raised and the Extraordinary Measures Are Exhausted ■ Treasury not authorized to issue additional debt beyond the amount of debt outstanding ■ Delay in payments for government activities ■ Possible default on debt obligations ■ Administration determines which obligations are paid CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE 16

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Sources ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ Congressional Budget Office, Federal Debt and Interest Costs (December 2010), www.cbo.gov/publication/21960 Department of the Treasury, Daily Debt Subject to Limit Activity (October 2015), http://go.usa.gov/3JQsA Congressional Research Service, D. Andrew Austin, The Debt Limit Since 2011, Report for Congress R43389 (October 1, 2015) Government Accountability Office, Debt Limit: Analysis of 2011–2012 Actions Taken and Effect of Delayed Increase on Borrowing Costs, GAO-12-701 (July 2012), www.gao.gov/products/GAO-12-701 Government Accountability Office, Debt Limit: Market Response to Recent Impasses Underscores Need to Consider Alternative Approaches, GAO-15-476 (July 2015), www.gao.gov/ products/GAO-15-476 Congressional Research Service, D. Andrew Austin and others, Reaching the Debt Limit: Background and Potential Effects on Government Operations, Report for Congress R41633 (Congressional Research Service, March 27, 2015) Government Accountability Office, Debt Limit: Delays Create Debt Management Challenges and Increase Uncertainty in the Treasury Market, GAO-11-203 (February 2011), www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-203 CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE 17

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