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Debt Limit Deadline Already Creeping Up Congress

Mnuchin, Mulvaney make case for action sooner rather than later

Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., has been aggressively reacting to Democrats' praise of the omnibus spending deal. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., has been aggressively reacting to Democrats' praise of the omnibus spending deal. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Congress and the Trump administration may be facing off over raising the debt limit sooner than planned.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he wanted Congress to complete a clean measure to lift the debt ceiling before the August recess on Wednesday.

“I urge you to raise the debt limit before you leave for the summer,” Mnuchin told the House Ways and Means Committee.

That was shortly after Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, at the tail end of a House hearing on the administration’s fiscal 2018 budget request, was asked about the way forward for increasing the limit on the nation’s borrowing authority.

Mulvaney said that the federal government has not been bringing in as much revenue as expected.

“My understanding is that the receipts currently are coming in a little bit slower than expected and you may soon hear from Mr. Mnuchin regarding a change in the date,” said Mulvaney at the House Budget Committee.

As it turned out, Mnuchin’s comments were imminent.

Mnuchin is responsible for providing formal notification about the point at which his department will exhaust so-called “extraordinary measures” to avoid a default. The actual end of the debt limit suspension arrived in the middle of March.

That real deadline had been expected to arrive in October or November, perhaps setting up a situation in which lawmakers could couple the debt limit resolution with an appropriations bill to fund the federal government past the end of the fiscal year at the end of September.

Mulvaney said that he met with Mnuchin about the matter on Tuesday, and he was looking forward to discussing the matter with Chief Economic Adviser Gary Cohn when Cohn returns from traveling as part of President Donald Trump’s first official trip abroad.

An earlier arrival of the end date could set up an unexpected cliff either during the traditional August recess for Congress or shortly thereafter, meaning the debt limit might need to be addressed as early as late July.

Mulvaney said the Trump administration has no position yet on whether it would prefer the debt ceiling be increased to a set dollar amount or the limit be suspended through a date in the future. The latter approach was used under President Barack Obama.

“No, we do not have a final stated policy yet. I can tell you that I met for about an hour yesterday with secretary Mnuchin to discuss this exact topic,” Mulvaney said at the hearing.

Alan K. Ota contributed to this report.

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