Treasury says government will reach federal debt limit Feb. 20

The Treasury Department said Wednesday that the current $6.4 trillion debt limit would be reached on or around Feb. 20, but congressional leaders so far have not agreed how to proceed with a traditionally difficult vote for many lawmakers.

It is unlikely any decision will be reached until March at the earliest, as most lawmakers believe Treasury can use a host of gimmicks to keep the government solvent after the debt limit is reached. It is unclear how long those gimmicks will forestall the inevitable.

Also Wednesday, Senate Finance Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, told reporters the committee probably will not move legislation to raise the statutory debt limit until March, despite administration urgings to act this month.

This year, House Republicans made the debt limit vote easier for lawmakers by reinstating the so-called Gephardt rule, which allows the vote on the budget resolution to automatically raise the statutory debt limit. Once the budget resolution is passed, the House clerk enrolls a second resolution raising the debt limit and it is sent to the Senate. The Senate can either approve it and send it to the president, or force a conference with the House by demanding a different statutory limit.

Democrats used the Treasury statement as another means to attack the administration's fiscal policies and a string of projected deficits into the foreseeable future.

"The Bush administration is proposing that we cut taxes, and then borrow to make up for the revenues lost," said House Budget ranking member John Spratt, D-S.C., in a statement.

Added the congressional Blue Dogs, "We will lay down on the tracks in opposition to the administration's request for another blank check to finance its course of deficit spending in perpetuity."