Reply to “Has the U.S. Treasury Already Exceeded the Debt Limit?”

Perhaps I’m a bit jealous here….that this guy got a Drudge link and I didn’t…but I give him a swing and a miss for not paying attention. The headline refers to the Daily Treasury Statement table III, which I happen to know something about. The author notes correctly how the debt outstanding, at $16.738T is now $39B over the 16.699T official limit. Busted…right!! Well…not really. You see, there is a small subset(about $30-40B) of the debt that is exempt from the debt limit…this is not new or newsworthy, it has always been this way…not just for the past 68 days….always.
Most of this exempt debt is related to the unamortized discount…currently at $32B. So…you are probably wondering….”what the heck is the unamortized discount?” Let’s take a 3 month T-Bill for example. Rather than issuing at say $100, then paying interest plus face value three months later, they are issued at a discount, say $99, then paid in full when due. That 1$ is the discount. So…while I now have an additional $100 face value of debt on the books, your accountant will say that you technically only have $99 of debt, and will incur $1 of interest over the next 3 months. That difference…currently $32B, plus a handful of other items are specifically excluded from the debt limit calculation. Why??… I don’t know…I suppose it’s in some regulation or law somewhere, but that’s just how it is, and has always been. Pointing that out now well…it really isn’t news to anyone who has been paying attention.
Now, that’s not to say there are not shady things going on….there certainly are….Mr. DeLegge just looking under the wrong stone. The real travesty is the use of “extraordinary measures” to essentially hide debt off of the balance sheet…probably another $100B or so over the next month. Then, when the debt limit is raised, and we all know it will be…this debt will magically, and nearly instantly be parked back on the balance sheet. Ta Da!! That magic trick deserves further scrutiny….the unamortized discount….nah…that’s just good accounting (for a change). So the answer is…No…they haven’t…yet…but they fully intend to….just not as obviously as you think.
So…if you want a real debt limit primer, read Debt Limit Recap Summer 2013 written by your truly without all of the glamour associated with a Drudge Link, but guaranteed to have at least twice as much credibility 🙂