As the Senate on Wednesday announced a last-minute, bipartisan debt ceiling deal, the nation’s top securities industry trade group laid out the fiscal problems that could ensue if Washington lawmakers ultimately fail to resolve the fight that has brought the U.S. to the brink of default.
Former Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), CEO of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA), blamed both Republicans and President Barack Obama for their refusal to compromise and warned that the Treasury expects on Thursday to reach the limit of the extraordinary funding measures it has already taken for funding U.S. debt.
“Clearly, there is significant damage to the Republican brand in its willingness to be a party of fiscal destruction,” Gregg said in a media call, adding that Obama “has done himself considerable harm by not negotiating on this.”
The Senate budget deal, which contains almost none of the Republican efforts to hamper Obama’s health care law, would fund federal agencies at current levels through Jan. 15 and extend the nation’s borrowing authority through Feb. 7. The House has agreed to vote on the funding plan, and, if passed, it would then be sent back to the Senate for final passage, which may be completed late Wednesday or early Thursday.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who took a leading role in forcing a government shutdown by linking a debt deal to his attempt to defund the Affordable Care Act, said he would not attempt to block the Senate proposal. The government shutdown was in its 16th day on Wednesday.
The markets surged on the news, with the three major indexes all closing more than 1% higher.
During the debt crisis, SIFMA has been busy setting up protocols for the settlement and processing for daily transactions in Treasury securities, said Rob Toomey, SIFMA’s managing director and associate general counsel, who was on the call with Gregg.
“Over the last few months, we’ve done contingency planning in operations in the case of a default event,” Toomey said Wednesday. “We have put in place a playbook, which is to get everybody on the same page with appropriate risk management as we move through a failure to pay by Treasury, although market participants do expect that payment will be made tomorrow.”
While SIFMA believes that market participants are operationally prepared to deal with a Treasury failure to pay, it is also clear that clearing and settling transactions in Treasury securities would be challenging if the Treasury defaults on its debt.
If the Treasury reaches its limit for extraordinary measures on Thursday, it will only be able to fund government operations through cash on hand and tax receipts, according to SIFMA. Treasury estimates that it will have $30 billion on hand as of Thursday. In addition, a Treasury bill of $120 billion is scheduled to mature on Thursday, with another $93 billion bill scheduled to mature on Oct. 24. On Oct. 31, Treasury must make principal and interest payments on a number of bills and notes. Gregg noted that there are costs associated with Washington lawmakers’ threatened refusal to fund government debt, and that treatment “the underlying disease” of ballooning U.S. debt should not be tied to the nation’s repayment of the debt it has already created. “Certainly, over the past weeks, higher risk premiums are built in at Treasury auctions,” Gregg said. “It’s a compounding event, and it’s not a good event for taxpayers.”
Meanwhile, billionaire investor Warren Buffett told CNBC on Wednesday that if the U.S. did anything to damage its 237-year reputation for paying bills on time, it would be both “a pure act of idiocy” and “asinine.”
Threatening to not raise the nation’s debt limit “after you’ve already spent the money” is a “political weapon of mass destruction” comparable to poison gas, Buffett said. “I know it’s been used in the past, but we used the atomic bomb back in 1945 but we decided we weren’t going to do something like that again.”
Check out Bob Rodriguez Grades Obama, Calls Government ‘Chaos’ Top Threat on ThinkAdvisor.