Budget Negotiations Continue — And So Does the Clock on the Debt Ceiling

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) listens during a press conference on Capitol Hill March 7, 2013 in Washington, D.C.
National Journal
Elahe Izadi
Oct. 30, 2013, 2:10 p.m.

With so much at­ten­tion fo­cused on what, if any­thing, can be ac­com­plished by the budget con­fer­ence, it would be easy to for­get about the debt lim­it.

But many of the budget con­fer­ees have not for­got­ten.

“My goal is to fund the gov­ern­ment between now and Sept. 30 and make sure we don’t have an­oth­er gov­ern­ment shut­down,” said Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C. “When it comes to rais­ing the debt lim­it for a long peri­od of time — that’s where we need to talk about en­ti­tle­ment re­form and tax code re­form.”

He ad­ded: “That’s the point of lever­age.”

The Oc­to­ber deal that ended the gov­ern­ment shut­down, fun­ded the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment through Jan. 15, and cre­ated the budget con­fer­ence also raised the debt lim­it through Feb. 7. And, budget deal or not, Con­gress will still be faced with wheth­er to lift that lim­it.

If the lim­it isn’t in­creased by Feb. 7, the Treas­ury De­part­ment still has some tools, of­ten called “ex­traordin­ary meas­ures,” to keep pay­ing the na­tion’s ob­lig­a­tions. But the Bi­par­tis­an Policy Cen­ter es­tim­ates those will run out by the end of Feb­ru­ary or mid-March.

When asked about the debt lim­it as an­oth­er arena for en­ti­tle­ment and tax ne­go­ti­ations, Sen. Jeff Ses­sions, the Alabama Re­pub­lic­an who serves as rank­ing mem­ber on the Sen­ate Budget Com­mit­tee, said, “We’re go­ing to need to con­tin­ue to use every op­por­tun­ity to cre­ate dis­cus­sions for pro­gress.”

“Even if we can’t reach an agree­ment in this com­mit­tee on some of these is­sues, maybe we can be­gin a dis­cus­sion that will lead to an agree­ment in Janu­ary and Feb­ru­ary,” he said.

In­deed, many mem­bers are bank­ing on budget ne­go­ti­ations yield­ing enough ac­cord that it would al­le­vi­ate the pres­sure cre­ated by the debt lim­it in the past.

“Let’s do this budget and reach an ac­cord, and I think if we reach the right ac­cord, it will give us the an­swer about what the debt lim­it should be,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. “I don’t want to do this and then go through a sep­ar­ate ne­go­ti­ation about the debt lim­it a month later.”

It’s un­clear wheth­er or how the debt ceil­ing will be used to ex­tract any sort of con­ces­sions this time around, par­tic­u­larly be­cause the dead­line to in­crease it will come closer to the 2014 midterm elec­tions. Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell has said he won’t use it in the fight to stop Obama­care.

Rep. Chris Van Hol­len of Mary­land, the top Demo­crat on the House Budget Com­mit­tee, called for the debt lim­it to be a part of any budget deal that emerges from the con­fer­ence.

“The whole is­sue of the debt ceil­ing should be a part of this dis­cus­sion,” he said. “If there’s an agree­ment reached, there should be a com­pre­hens­ive agree­ment.”

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