Congress isn’t the only entity conflicted about what to do. So is the White House. While Mnuchin has been the grown-up in the Trump administration calling consistently and clearly for a clean (no conditions) raising of the debt ceiling, a certain someone of significance has been muttering something completely different. White House budget director Mick Mulvaney has made it clear that raising the debt ceiling with conditions is a-okay by him. Heck, he even said chasing the rainbow that is Obamacare repeal should be tackled first. No wonder my colleague Catherine Rampell correctly dubbed Mulvaney “the most dangerous man in Washington.”
The policy discordance within the Trump administration should freak you out. Both the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) warn that if the legal limit on federal borrowing is not lifted sometime in early to mid-October, Uncle Sam might not have enough money on hand to pay all of its bills when they are due. The full faith and credit of the United States hangs in the balance.
And don’t think for a minute that the fallout from not raising the debt ceiling will not impact Americans from sea to shining sea. As we get closer to financial doomsday, the BPC undoubtedly will do what it did when we went through this avoidable nonsense back in 2011 and 2015. It put out these handy and terrifying charts that show the daily impact of U.S. default for every day the borrowing limit is not increased. Anyone who gets any kind of check from the federal government (think veterans, retirees) could get an IOU instead. Interest rates on mortgages and other loans could spike. Nations could turn away from the dollar as the reserve currency of the world. The United States would be like that bunny trying to outrun that avalanche in Russia we’ve seen on the Web. Perhaps not as successfully.
After Congress comes back from summer recess next month, there will be just 12 working days until the end of the fiscal year, which is also around the time the treasury will have insufficient funds to pay its bills. The debt ceiling is one of a host of things on the congressional agenda. It also includes the herculean effort to reform the tax code, which is going to gum up the effort to avoid default because Republicans haven’t seen fit to work with Democrats. “Asking Democrats to provide the votes to lift the debt ceiling while you blow a multitrillion-dollar hole in the deficit with a partisan tax package is not in furtherance of avoiding a default,” Drew Hammill, deputy chief of staff to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), told me. “Jamming Democrats on big issues without any outreach whatsoever is going to make a very difficult September needlessly more difficult.”
Are you freaked out yet? I was — until Shai Akabas, director of fiscal policy at BPC, told me not to freak out just yet.
“We’ve seen this show before. The unfortunate pattern is that negotiations usually don’t get serious until much closer to the projected X Date,” Akabas said, referring to the estimated date when the treasury will be unable to pay its bills on time and in full. “Based on recent history, I would have been more surprised if they had emerged with the outline of a deal at this stage.”