CBO Predicts the "X Date"

Given the nature of debt ceiling politics lately, estimating when the federal government will start defaulting on obligations has become a common, multiple-times-a-year occurrence.

With the debt ceiling scheduled to be re-instated on February 8 by the terms of the agreement reached last month, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has again tried to estimate how much breathing room Treasury will have before it will exhaust all borrowing authority. The actual X date is not February 8 since the Treasury Department can use "extraordinary measures" to temporarily avoid hitting the limit, which CBO predicts will most likely push the X date to sometime in March, but potentially as late as early June or as early as February.

CBO highlights that deficits tend to be very high in February in March as income tax refunds are paid out, but that the government is actually likely to run a surplus in April when tax receipts come due. The latter is the reason why CBO thinks there is a small possiblity that the X date could slip as late as June.

Analysts at the Bipartisan Policy Center, however, do not anticipate this happening. Shai Akabas and Brian Collins of the BPC, who have been very accurate historically, project that the X date will fall between late February and mid-March. A Treasury official also confirmed BPC's estimated timeframe to the Washington Post's Brad Plumer.

Needless to say, until further notice, lawmakers shouldn't plan on seeing the cherry blossoms before having to deal with the debt ceiling. Particularly given that the delayed tax filing season will likely move some income tax refunds past February 8, it appears that lawmakers will have to address the debt limit by mid-March at the latest.