Cantor: No debt-limit vote until tax day


House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Wednesday that Republicans will wait until mid-April before considering a vote on raising the debt ceiling, creating a tiny window of time to raise the limit before it is hit.

Cantor said House Republicans will wait for tax revenues to be collected by the Treasury in mid-April before they set up a vote on the debt ceiling. 

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That timeframe suggest lawmakers could have only a matter of days to raise the $14.3 trillion limit before the Treasury Department’s estimate for when the United States will reach its spending ceiling.

On Tuesday, the Treasury updated its estimate for when the government will exhaust its borrowing, saying it now expects the it to occur sometime between April 15 and May 31.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke have warned of economic catastrophe if Congress fails to raise the debt limit. Raising the limit used to be a fairly routine task, but the votes have grown ever more politically perilous with record-setting deficits and debt levels. 

Cantor set his timetable for raising the debt ceiling during an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“We’re waiting for ... tax revenues to indicate exactly when the date is that the ceiling needs to be raised,” Cantor said. “We really don’t know exactly when the date will be that we’ll have to act.”

Lawmakers are currently haggling over a spending measure to keep the government funded for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30. The Senate on Wednesday followed the House by approving a measure keeping the government funded for another two weeks. 

While the fight over government funding has dominated Capitol Hill in recent weeks, the debt ceiling looms large as an issue lawmakers will need to address in the coming weeks.

Tax day this year will not fall on the traditional April 15. Because a holiday falls on that date in the District of Columbia, the filing deadline has been pushed back to April 18.

The Treasury is updating its best guess about when the limit will be reached on a monthly basis, and has twice pushed back its timeline in response to new numbers. Geithner told lawmakers at the beginning of January the Treasury could hit the limit as early as March 31.

The debt-limit debate has been a feisty one since Republicans took control of the House. Republicans have said they want promises of spending cuts in exchange for their votes to raise the limit. 

But the Obama administration, led by Geithner, has chided lawmakers not to use the debt limit as political leverage, saying a failure to do so would lead to economic ruin. 

Geithner warned lawmakers in a January letter that failing to raise the limit would have “catastrophic economic consequences.” Bernanke this week said a failure to raise the debt ceiling would lead to economic chaos. 

Some Republicans have dismissed Geithner’s dire warning as a scare tactic, and some lawmakers are pushing legislation they say would prevent the country from defaulting on its debt if the limit were reached.

It’s possible that a vote to raise the debt ceiling could be tied to a vote to fund the government. It is unclear whether lawmakers and the White House will agree to a measure funding the government for the rest of the fiscal year after the measure approved this week runs out, or whether they will approve more short-term measures. 

Tying the two votes together could give the GOP leverage, and the White House has maintained that Congress should pass a “clean” increase to the debt ceiling.

The first meeting of the House Tea Party Caucus earlier this week was dominated by debt-limit talk. Members discussed the possibility of tying any vote on raising the limit to a major concession from Democrats, like a vote on a constitutional balanced-budget amendment.

This post updated at 6:33 pm.