Chart of the day: We won’t have another budget battle until fall

May 8, 2013

The United States has had an eerily long crisis-free run since the "fiscal cliff" was averted. At the start of the year, it sure looked like we were set for budget deadline after budget deadline, with furious negotiations occurring in the run-up to each. But the sequester took effect to relatively little fanfare, and the March 27 expiration of the continuing resolution under which Congress is currently operating didn't put the government in risk of shutdown, as another one was passed uneventfully.

Still, it looked like the debt ceiling, set to take effect again on May 19 after being suspended in January, was going to break the streak and trigger another round of budget fights. But as my colleagues Lori Montgomery and Zach Goldfarb reported Wednesday morning, even that deadline is getting pushed back. Tax revenues are up, due both to the return of some of the Bush tax cuts and the rebounding economy, and the sequester and the decline in health-care cost growth are reducing spending. Put together, those trends mean the government doesn't need to borrow as much, which means it'll hit the debt ceiling later.

How much later? Not until September. This chart from my colleagues in graphics makes the point well:

The blue line reflects the path of national debt excluding any payments from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Those agencies are required to pay a portion of the profits they've earned on assets since the financial crisis to the Treasury. Those payments are expected to be made before the end of the year, but that depends on Fannie and Freddie's respective assessments of when the best time is to write up those assets.

But in any case, expect a long summer free of budget battles.

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Brad Plumer · May 8, 2013