Friday, August 5, 2011

The Debt Ceiling and Where Do You Hide $238 BILLION?

If you followed the USA's debt-ceiling debate, you may remember that U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said that the U.S. Government would reach the Congress-imposed debt ceiling on 16-MAY-2011.

As Congress did little to act on the debt ceiling up to that point, the debt-ceiling debate was delayed until a 1-AUG-2011 drop-dead date. The Treasury admitted to delaying payments to certain federal retirement and disability funds to postpone the date beyond 16-MAY-2011. Using the ever-popular "everybody-does-it" defense, Secretary Geithner claims, "Each of these actions has been taken in the past by my predecessors during previous debt limit impasses."

After tortuous debate and political wrangling, the U.S. Congress agreed to increase the debt ceiling. Immediately afterward, the U.S. Treasury borrowed a record $238.3 BILLION in a single day!

(click to enlarge)

The chart above uses data directly from the U.S. Treasury and shows the accumulated total public debt from 1-JAN-2011 until 3-AUG-2011. The red line shows the TOTAL public debt. Not all of the debt is subject to the debt ceiling (as described here and here), so the line seemingly crosses the official debt ceiling limit. However, the red line flattens out on 16-MAY-2011, the day that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says that the U.S. hit the official debt limit.

At first glance, it would appear that the U.S. debt did not increase from 16-MAY-2011 until 2-AUG-2011 and then suddenly the debt increases by $238.3 BILLION. However, from the historical "burn-rate", the U.S. Government was in reality still borrowing an average of $2.72 BILLION per day! The blue dashed line shows extrapolated borrowing even during the period where the official total debt flat-lines.

In essence, the Government merely stopped borrowing on the open market and instead borrowed from federal employees and retirees--many whom where likely unknowing and unwilling U.S. creditors.

So, where did the U.S. Treasury "hide" this $238.3 BILLION? If a public company acted this way, these actions would likely trigger an SEC investigation (and shareholder lawsuits). But, as we sadly know, the U.S. government isn't constrained by the same rules that it mandates for everybody else.

In a side note, the total USA public debt is rapidly reaching the size of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). In 2010, the U.S. GDP was $14.658 TRILLION.

  • Where did the U.S. Treasury "hide" this $238.3 BILLION?
  • Were their actions legal?
  • Were their action ethical?
  • The Congress delayed action on handling the debt crisis well beyond the original 16-MAY-2011 date. How much did Congress' inaction cost the nation?
See also ...

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