Fresh from a budget fight so raw that the Republican speaker of the U.S. House cursed the Democratic leader of the Senate outside the Oval Office, President Barack Obama and Congress are heading for an even bigger confrontation over raising the nation’s debt limit.
U.S. Treasury bond investors — who most directly bear the risk of a government default — aren’t alarmed. In a sign of the disconnect between Washington and Wall Street, investors remain confident the two sides will compromise rather than inflict what Obama called “catastrophic” consequences. Yields on long-term U.S. debt are near record lows.
“It’s ugly in Washington, and getting uglier,” said Matthew Duch, a fund manager in Bethesda, Maryland, for Calvert Investments, which oversees more than $12 billion in assets. “But that is just resulting in even lower rates as the market is much more concerned about growth than if the U.S. will be able to pay their bills.”
That hasn’t stopped Republicans and the president from moving toward a clash, with House leaders vowing to exact deep spending cuts in exchange for raising the borrowing ceiling and Obama saying he won’t negotiate on the debt. The U.S. Treasury is bumping up against its legal borrowing limit.
“Heretofore, they’ve been playing with a cherry bomb in economic terms,” said Steve Bell, a former Republican Senate budget aide. “When they start playing with the debt ceiling in February, they are starting to play with C-4,” he said, referring to the powerful plastic explosive material.