May 25, 2023
US Treasury Discussing Tweaks to Payment Practices as Debt Clock Ticks
(Bloomberg) -- The Treasury Department is discussing potential changes to payment procedures for federal agencies as the date approaches by when it will run out of enough cash to make good on all US government obligations, according to people familiar with the matter.
The department has a long-standing Financial Manual that outlines how the department processes payments if the government faces a fiscal crisis as a result of a debt-ceiling constraint.
That handbook establishes that payments will only be processed if they’re due the next business day — a contrast with the standard practice, whereby some federal agencies’ payments are processed days before they’re due.
The Treasury has been discussing the specifics of the manual with agencies, though no instructions have been sent as yet to change how they report their payments, one of the people familiar with the matter said.
The plan sheds light on how the department plans to manage its sparse reserves in case a deal is not reached in the negotiations between the White House and Republican lawmakers. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier that the Treasury was dusting off its contingency planning for payments processing with federal agencies.
The two sides are narrowing their differences over raising the debt limit but still haven’t reached an agreement to avert an approaching default, according to one of the main GOP negotiators.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has repeatedly said that her department may run out of cash to pay the nation’s bills as soon as June 1. She has followed her predecessors in refraining from spelling out exactly what the department would do in the worst-case scenario of Congress failing to raise or suspend the debt ceiling in time.
Even so, past contingency planning from in 2011 and 2013 revealed in transcripts of Federal Reserve policymaker discussions suggests that the Treasury would use the cash and revenue it does have to ensure that payments are made on government debt. Past documentation also indicates the Treasury would hold off on making non-debt payments until it ensured it had enough to pay the entirety of the following day’s worth of obligations.
--With assistance from Anna Edgerton.
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