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Despite March 15 deadline, debt limit may last until fall, analysts say

Debt limit will technically be reached on March 15

Reuters

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has until the fall to convince lawmakers to raise the debt ceiling.

Although the federal debt limit will technically be reached on March 15, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew likely will have until the fall to figure a way to get Congressional Republicans to increase the debt ceiling, Wall Street analysts say.

Last year, in a new twist, Congress simply suspended the debt limit though March 15. So on March 16, the debt ceiling will be whatever the public debt was the prior day.

At the moment, the public debt is $18.06 trillion.

Right away, on March 16 ,Treasury will be able to create some room under this new ceiling through accounting maneuvers like suspending new investments in federal retirement and disability funds.

Then revenue from the April 15 tax deadline will give Treasury more room under the ceiling, analysts said.

Ward McCarthy, chief financial economist at Jefferies, said in a research note Treasury won’t have to worry about running low on cash “well into the third quarter and possibly into the fourth quarter.”

Lou Crandall, chief economist at Wrightson ICAP, said Treasury’s accounting maneuvers will last until sometime in the fourth quarter.

“Our best guess is that Treasury would not run out of resources until November, but there is obviously a great deal of uncertainty about the precise timing,” Crandall said in a note to clients.

At the regular quarterly briefing on U.S. debt management on Wednesday, Treasury officials declined to provide clarity on how long they think the extraordinary measures will last.

Seth Carpenter, Treasury’s acting assistant secretary for financial markets, said Treasury wouldn’t be able to provide a solid estimate until after tax season.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has pledged not to let the country default but it is unclear what his strategy will be to win support among rank-and-file Republicans.

Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, has introduced legislation to trade raising the debt limit for spending cuts. But President Barack Obama has refused in the past to negotiate over the debt ceiling.

The last time a Republican Congress had to raise the debt limit without any help from Democrats was in 2006.

Last year, when the debt limit was suspended until March 15, 2015, only 28 House Republicans voted for the measure.

Greg Robb