Lest the words “debt ceiling” spark a panic over the possibility of another showdown in Washington, fear not.
The Obama administration is expected to ask Friday for a $1.2 trillion increase in the limit on the federal government’s borrowing. Congress then will have 15 days to say no. But because the House is out of session until Jan. 17 and the Senate is gone until Jan. 23, it is probable that the debt ceiling will be increased without a whimper.
The action would raise the country’s debt ceiling to $16.4 trillion from $15.2 trillion. According to the Treasury Department, that may be enough to cover federal spending through the 2012 elections. And, just in case it needs more, the Treasury says it will be able to authorize special measures — for example, suspending certain payments to civil service pensions — to fund the government through the elections.
This summer, a spectacular battle erupted between the Obama administration and congressional Republicans over raising the nation’s debt limit. Republicans ultimately agreed that the debt limit would be automatically increased in three stages — although at each instance Congress would have the option of voting to block the increase by passing a “resolution of disapproval.”
Even if such a resolution were passed, President Obama could veto it, and he could only be overridden by a two-thirds supermajority in each chamber.
Leadership aides in both chambers did not indicate Tuesday whether any disapproval votes are planned.
The debt limit is increasing significantly at the end of the year in large part because of payments the Treasury must make to federal trust funds, such as Social Security.
The payments will put government borrowing within $100 billion of the current debt ceiling, triggering the administration’s request to increase the overall limit.