Two Months, Four Fiscal Speed Bumps to Deal With
We are coming down the home stretch of calendar year 2015, with only a little more than two months left. Lawmakers will have to get to work as they have four "Fiscal Speed Bumps" – mandatory budget deadlines – to deal with. The first comes just next week as the authorization for highway spending will be expired by October 30, or federal highway spending will cease. The Treasury Department has also told Congress that the debt ceiling will need to be raised by November 3, or they will run dangerously low on cash on hand and risk default.
In December, lawmakers will need to agree on FY 2016 spending levels and fund the government before December 12 either with full appropriations bills or another continuing resolution. Without a funding deal, the government would shut down. And by the end of the year, lawmakers face a soft deadline for retroactively reviving the 50+ tax breaks, called the extenders, which expired at the end of 2014.
Progress on these Speed Bumps has been somewhat slow. The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee has released a six-year bipartisan highway bill, but it doesn't provide funding ideas, which are typically handled by the Ways & Means Committee. With time running low to find funding, policymakers may ultimately have to do a short-term authorization and deal with a longer bill before the Highway Trust Fund runs low next summer.
The debt ceiling and appropriations have become entangled in the political turmoil in the House over the Speakership, and there has been no public progress on either issue yet.
Finally, both the House and Senate have been working on tax extenders but with different approaches – the House extending select provisions permanently and the Senate Finance Committee extending all the provisions for two years. They will have to reconcile those approaches in some way that hopefully pays for any extensions, though history would indicate another temporary extension may be the most likely outcome.
Congress and the President have some serious work to do if they are going to deal with all of these Fiscal Speed Bumps in a timely and responsible manner. Otherwise, they may risk serious consequences or make poor choices adding even further to the debt.