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October 7, 2015

Shrinking Deficit Buys Congress Time on Debt Limit

Congress might have to wait a few more months than originally expected for the next self-made budget crisis to rock Washington.

According to revised budget baselines from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the Treasury will be able to stretch the deadline for a debt limit increase until October or November by exhausting “extraordinary measures” after the government hits its statutory deadline on Sunday.

From the CBO report:

“If no further action is taken before May 19, the Treasury will resort to what are known as extraordinary measures for managing cash and borrowing to allow the government to continue operating normally. To avoid defaulting on the federal government’s obligations, the debt ceiling will need to be raised before those extraordinary measures are exhausted, most likely in October or November.”

The report was also bullish overall on deficit reduction in light of a mix of legislative policy that has restricted spending while also raising revenues. Congress has not yet replaced the austerity measures it set with the sequester and the so-called “fiscal cliff” deal raised more than $600 billion in new revenue, meaning this year’s deficit will shrink to its lowest level since 2008.

More from the report:

“Relative to the size of the economy, the deficit this year—at 4.0 percent of gross domestic product (GDP)—will be less than half as large as the shortfall in 2009, which was 10.1 percent of GDP. Because revenues, under current law, are projected to rise more rapidly than spending in the next two years, deficits in CBO’s baseline projections continue to shrink, falling to 2.1 percent of GDP by 2015.”

House Republicans had agreed to raise the debt limit for a temporary period of time without exacting more cuts from the Democrats because they thought it would be good politics to delay the larger budget fight until the summer.

It’s unclear how the new timeline will affect their calculus or the dynamics overall, but it’s a subject sure to come up Wednesday at the House GOP’s special meeting on the debt limit.

Still, clearing the Congressional schedule of a budget fight this summer might create more oxygen for other issues, such as immigration or even moving forward with appropriations bills in regular order.

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