The United States hit its debt limit on Thursday, prompting the Treasury Department to begin using a series of accounting maneuvers to ensure the federal government can keep paying its bills.
In a letter to Congress, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said the government would begin using what’s known as “extraordinary measures” to prevent the nation from breaching its statutory debt limit and asked lawmakers to raise or suspend the cap so that the government can continue meeting its financial obligations.
“The period of time that extraordinary measures may last is subject to considerable uncertainty, including the challenges of forecasting the payments and receipts of the U.S. government months into the future,” Ms. Yellen said. “I respectfully urge Congress to act promptly to protect the full faith and credit of the United States.”
The milestone of hitting the country’s $31.4 trillion debt cap is the product of decades of tax cuts and increased government spending by both Republicans and Democrats. But at a moment of heightened partisanship and divided government, it is also a warning of the entrenched partisan battles that are set to dominate Washington in the months to come, and that could end in economic shock.
Newly empowered Republicans in the House have vowed that they will not raise the borrowing limit again unless President Biden agrees to steep cuts in federal spending. Mr. Biden has said he will not negotiate conditions for a debt-limit increase, arguing that lawmakers should lift the cap with no strings attached to cover spending that previous Congresses authorized.
Treasury officials estimate the measures that they began using on Thursday will enable the government to keep paying federal workers, Medicare providers, investors who hold U.S. debt and other recipients of federal dollars at least until early June.
But economists warn that the nation risks a financial crisis and other immediate economic pain if lawmakers do not raise the limit before the Treasury Department exhausts its ability to buy more time.
The episode has prompted fears in part because of the lessons both parties have taken from more than a decade of debt-limit fights. A bout of brinkmanship in 2011 between House Republicans and President Barack Obama nearly ended in the United States defaulting on its debt before Mr. Obama agreed to a set of caps on future spending increases in exchange for lifting the limit.
Most Democrats have solidified in their position that negotiations over the debt limit only enhance the risks of economic calamity by encouraging Republicans to use it as leverage. That is particularly true of Mr. Biden, who successfully stared down Republicans and won an increase in 2021 with no stipulations.
Newly elected Republicans, emboldened by anger among their base and conservative advocacy groups over failures in the past to exact concessions for raising the limit, have pledged not to let that happen again.
In reality, both parties have approved policies that fueled the growth in government borrowing. Republicans repeatedly passed tax cuts when they controlled the White House over the last 20 years. Democrats have expanded spending programs that have often not been fully offset by tax increases. Both parties have voted for large economic aid packages to help people and businesses endure the 2008 financial crisis and the 2020 pandemic recession. (SOURCE)