Nearly exactly five years after Hank Paulson appeared before Congress dangling a 3 page term sheet ultimatum warning it was his way or the apocalypse, it is time for the sequel. Since we all love the smell of a good Mutually Assured Destruction spectacle in the morning. Which is why we can't wait for Treasury Secretary Jack Lew's presentation before the Senate Finance Committee discussing the Debt Limit, in which he will rain fire and brimstone on anyone who suggests that the Treasury can enter the X-Date without a debt ceiling deal in place, and will most certainly seek to crucify anyone who points out the logical, namely that payments can be prioritized and interest expense is a fraction the revenue the Treasury brings in, and that the end of the world would be nigh should the US actually be forced to live within its means.
Watch Lew's testimony live below (or if not webcast not showing, use C-Span link)
The choice fire and even more choice brimstone from Lew's prepared remarks (below):
If interest rates rose, it would have a real impact on American households. The stock market, including investments in retirement accounts, could tumble, and it could become more expensive for Americans to buy a car, own a home, and open a small business.
These additional costs of borrowing could not easily be undone and our actions would impact Americans for generations to come.
Failing to raise the debt ceiling will impact everyday Americans beyond its impact on financial markets. For example, doctors receiving reimbursements under Medicare would likely continue to provide services on a timely basis, but they would be operating with significant uncertainty about when they would be paid by the government for their services. For millions of low-income Americans who rely on Medicaid for their healthcare, the federal government’s payments to states for the federal contribution would likely also be impacted. These providers still have to pay their doctors, nurses, and staff, but absent timely federal payments, many could face real liquidity challenges. And for those waiting on benefits who need those funds in order to refill their refrigerator – if that money doesn’t flow, they won’t go to the grocery store to shop, creating ripple effects that would be felt throughout the economy. The bottom line is that failing to raise the debt ceiling creates a very difficult and unfair situation, and one that is completely avoidable if Congress acts.
It is also important to note that the federal government has numerous large payments that are due shortly after October 17, when we will have exhausted our borrowing authority and will only have cash on hand to meet our obligations. Between October 17 and November 1, we have large payments to Medicare providers, Social Security beneficiaries, and veterans, as well as salariespayment of all of these at risk.
We need to look no further than 2011 for evidence of what just an extended debate on the merits of raising the debt limit can do to our economy. In 2011, U.S. government debt was downgraded for the first time in history, the stock market fell, measures of volatility jumped, and credit risk spreads widened noticeably; these financial market effects persisted for months. To be sure, other forces both at home and abroad also played a role, but the uncertainty surrounding whether or not the U.S. government would pay its bills had a lasting impact on both markets and the economy.
Lew's full prepared remarks below (link):