A pair of Senate Republicans is pressing the Treasury Department for details on when the government will reach its $16.4 trillion debt ceiling — and how long it can avoid hitting the limit.
Sens. Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Jeff Sessions (Ala.) asked Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Monday to lay out a precise timeline for when the government expects to near the debt ceiling and what "extraordinary measures" can be taken to prolong the deadline.
The request comes while much of Washington is consumed with addressing the glut of Jan. 1 policy changes known as the "fiscal cliff," and serves as a reminder that the debt ceiling also looms as another high-stakes battle.
Hatch and Sessions are the ranking members of the Senate Finance and Budget committees, respectively.
According to the pair, the government is already drawing near the new limit.
Citing Treasury data, they said the government's debt load, as of Oct. 11, stood $275 billion below the new level, which was expanded by $2.1 trillion under the last-minute debt-limit deal reached in August 2011.
"In other words, just over a year later, we’ve already exhausted 87 percent of the $2.1 trillion increase in federal borrowing authority, averaging more than $4 billion in borrowing a day," they wrote in a letter.
The Treasury Department has said it expects to near the new limit sometime toward the end of the year, following the November elections. However, as it did the last time the government came close to its borrowing cap, the Treasury has a few "extraordinary measures" that free up funds to keep the government functioning when it comes up against that limit.
In 2011, the government actually neared the limit in May, but those measures were able to buy Congress time to raise it until the beginning of August.
The GOP lawmakers also asked Geithner to lay out what contingency plan, if any, exists for a situation in which the debt limit is not raised in time.
Geithner has always staunchly maintained that raising the debt limit is not a debatable proposition, and that Congress has no choice but to do so, because lawmakers risk throwing the global economy into turmoil if the U.S. government defaults on its obligations.
Hatch and Sessions said that if Geithner provided a more detailed timeline for reaching the new limit, they could "aid decision-makers and pre-empt any need for such a contingency plan in the future."
As the debt limit last approached, in the summer of 2011, Hatch repeatedly accused Geithner of failing to provide sufficiently detailed information about the government's cash flow. The lawmaker has maintained that the information is crucial, considering all details are valuable when dealing with something as critical as the full faith and credit of the nation.
"This lack of transparency from Treasury is unacceptable, especially with regard to issues affecting the full faith and credit of the United States," the pair wrote Monday.
While Congress is looking to address the fiscal cliff, or at least find a way to temporarily avert it, during the lame-duck session following the elections, the circumstances surrounding the debt limit are much murkier politically.
Since the debt limit will not need to be raised until early next year, it is possible that the issue will fall to the still-unknown winner of the White House and to the newly elected Senate and House of Representatives.