By Peter Schroeder - 05/02/12 08:16 PM EDT
Lawmakers will not have to re-fight their epic battle over raising the debt ceiling until after the November elections, according to the Treasury Department.
April tax receipts have not moved Treasury's debt-ceiling target date, and Secretary Timothy Geithner still expects lawmakers will have until the tail end of 2012 to raise the $16.394 trillion ceiling.
Lower-than-expected tax receipts could have moved up the date on the debt ceiling, forcing a vote both parties would like to avoid before the election.
The government has borrowed $15.673 trillion, and the limit is still too far off for Treasury to more accurately predict when it will be reached, an official said Wednesay.
But the Treasury spokesman insisted the agency has the tools to prevent the United States from going over the limit if it draws near prior to Nov. 6, when voters go to the polls.
"If the debt limit were to be reached prior to the 2012 elections, Treasury would be able to invoke extraordinary measures to extend borrowing authority beyond the next elections," the spokesman said.
At an event earlier in the day, a Treasury official noted much could change between now and the end of the year, making it difficult to estimate exactly when the ceiling will be hit.
"It’s difficult to pinpoint a precise date because we are more than six months away from that and I think there’s a lot that can change between now and then," said Matt Rutherford, the Treasury's acting assistant secretary for financial markets. "We’ll be watching it."
Last summer, Congress faced an Aug. 2 deadline for raising the debt limit. The government actually reached that limit back in May, but had more time to haggle thanks to a series of moves by Treasury.
The agency began a "debt issuance suspension period" when it first reached the limit, and freed up cash to meet government obligations elsewhere. For example, Treasury held off the need for a debt-limit boost by halting the issuance of special securities for state and local governments, and by halting some investments in federal employee retirement funds.
While it is unclear exactly how much time the Treasury could buy Congress on the debt limit the next time around, officials are confident they can at least hold off the need to raise it until after the elections.
However, it is possible that the limit will need to be raised by a lame-duck Congress following the election, adding to the already large pile of contentious issues on the slate.
Lawmakers will need to grapple with what to do with expiring income and payroll tax cuts, as well as automatic spending cuts set to trigger in the new year.
Not only do observers not believe something will be done on those matters before the election, there is a growing concern on Capitol Hill that those issues could be pushed back even into the next Congress by temporary extensions.