Treasury: Debt Up $0 in August; CBO: But Deficit Was $146B

Terence P. Jeffrey | September 9, 2013 | 4:04pm EDT
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Treasury Secretary Jack Lew (AP Photo)

( - The federal deficit increased by $146 billion in August, according to a report released today by the Congressional Budget Office. But, at the same time, according to the U.S. Treasury, the federal debt did not increase at all during the month.

Total federal receipts were $185 billion during August, according to the CBO, while total federal outlays were $331 billion. Thus, the Treasury was forced to engage in $146 billion in deficit spending.

Despite this deficit spending, the Treasury reported that at the close of every single business day in August, the federal debt subject to a legal limit by Congress remained exactly $16,699,396,000,000.

That is approximately just $25 million below the legal limit on the debt that is $16,699,421,095,673.60

If the federal debt had climbed by the same $146 billion that the deficit climbed in August, it would have exceeded the legal limit by almost $146 billion.

In fact, according to the Daily Treasury Statements that the Treasury publishes at 4:00 p.m. on each business day, the debt subject to the legal limit has remained at exactly $16,699,396,000,000--or about $25 million below the legal limit--every day since May 17.

With the release of the Daily Treasury Statement for Sept. 6 (which occurred at 4:00 p.m on Sept. 9), that makes 112 days that, according to the U.S. Treasury, the debt has been stuck at $16,699,396,000,000.

The CBO reported today said that in addition to a $146 billion deficit in August, the Treasury also ran a $98 billion deficit in July, and that in the first eleven months of fiscal 2013 (October through August) the federal government has run a cumulative $753 billion deficit.

Back on May 17--when the Treasury said the debt first hit $16,699,396,000,000--Treasury Secretary Jack Lew sent House Speaker John Boehner a letter indicating that the Treasury would begin using “extraordinary measures” to allow the government to continue borrowing money without exceeding the legal limit of $16,699,421,095,673.60.

“In total, the extraordinary measures currently available free up approximately $260 billion in headroom under the limit, as described below,” said an appendix to Lew’s letter.

Among the “extraordinary measures” Lew said he could take to create this “headroom” under the debt limit were: 1) not investing new money from the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund (CSRDF) in U.S. Treasury securities, which he said would create $6.4 billion in “headroom” per month, 2) not reinvesting $58 billion ion Treasury Securities held by the CSRDF that would be maturing and not reinvesting $16 billion in interest owed to the fund, which would create $74 billion in headroom, 3) suspending the routine daily reinvestment of $160 billion in special Treasury securities held by the Federal Employees’ Retirement System Thrift Savings Plan, which would create another $160 billion in headroom, and 4) suspending the routine daily reinvestment of Treasury securities held by the government’s own Exchange Stabilization Fund, which would create another $23 billion in headroom.

On Aug. 26, Lew sent Boehner another letter stating: "Based on our latest estimates, extraordinary measures are projected to be exhausted in the middle of October."

Between now and then, Congress will need to approve legislation to fund the government past the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, decide whether to permit Obamacare funding in that legislation, and decide whether to authorize President Obama to use military force in Syria.

During that time, if Lew's prediction to Boehner is correct, the Treasury will be able to use "extraordinary measures" to keep the federal debt from rising even as little as $25 million.

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