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Debt Limit Analysis

By Shai Akabas, Ben Ritz

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The federal debt limit, which was suspended by Congress and the president in November 2015, is set to be reinstated on March 16, 2017. When the debt limit is reinstated, the federal government’s accumulated debt will immediately equal the new ceiling, which BPC projects will be about $20.1 trillion. At that point, absent action by policymakers, the Treasury Department would be forced to immediately take “extraordinary measures” to ensure the smooth functioning of the federal government’s finances.

BPC projects that extraordinary measures would allow Treasury to continue meeting its financial obligations for a limited amount of time, at least until mid-summer of 2017. However, it is important to stress the uncertainty involved in all debt limit estimates. The federal government is scheduled to take in and pay out trillions of dollars between now and the middle of 2017. A sudden shift in the trajectory of the economy or significant changes in spending or tax law could alter these projections.

Latest Updates

February 7, 2017: Recent History of the Debt Limit

Extraordinary Measures 101

Updated March 13, 2015: Extraordinary Measures, Simplified

Older Updates


September 13, 2016: Debt Limit Brinksmanship Threatens to Return Next Year


October 27: Debt Limit “X-date” Range Updated to Nov. 10-16

October 26: Moody’s Debt Default Statement Doesn’t Adequately Address Risks

October 22: Treasury’s Auction Postponement: “Canary in the Coal Mine”

October 7: Treasury Will Hit “X-date” for Paying Debt Nov. 10-19

October 2: Treasury Could Run Out of Cash Mid- To Late-November

September 11: Lew Letter on Debt Limit in Line with CBO, BPC Projections

September 2: Latest Monthly Treasury Data Doesn’t Change BPC Debt Limit Projection

August 25: CBO Debt Limit Projection Consistent with BPC’s Analysis

July 10: Debt Limit Brinkmanship Threatens Markets

U.S. Government Accountability Office: Market Response to Recent Impasses Underscores Need to Consider Alternative Approaches

May 18Debt Limit Update: Strong Tax Season Moves Most Likely X-Date Window to November/December

March 13: Debt Limit Reinstatement: Why This Time is Different l Download the full analysis

March 3: Debt Limit Update: X Date Most Likely in 4Q of 2015


February 12: House-Passed Suspension Would Add Approximately $1 Trillion to Debt Limit in March 2015

February 6: What to do with the Federal Debt Limit? Five Ideas

January 30: BPC Debt Limit Projection: X Date Will Arrive Soon After Debt Limit Reinstatement

January 9: Extraordinary Measures, Simplified


December 19: Late Start to Tax Filing Season Affects X Date

November 21: Thoughts on CBO’s New Debt Limit Report

November 21: Debt Limit Suspension: Frequently Asked Questions

October 18: BPC Estimates Agreement Will Increase Debt Limit by Roughly $600 billion; Debt Limit Suspended Until February 8, 2014

October 9: Could the X Date be delayed by extending the Debt Issuance Suspension Period?

October 8: As BPC’s X Date Window Narrows, Economic Risks Grow

October 3: Will the Government Shutdown Delay the X Date?

September 25: Debt Limit Update: No Change to BPC X Date Projection

September 10: BPC’s Debt Limit Projection: Key Takeaways

August 26: Statement by the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Steve Bell on the New Debt Limit Deadline

July 16: Debt Limit Update: Still on Track for a Fall X Date

May 23: Debt Limit Reinstated at $16.7 Trillion: Updated X Date Estimate

May 9: Updated X Date Estimate: GSE Dividend Announcements

May 8H.R. 807 (the Full Faith and Credit Act) and the Debt Limit

April 26:The Debt Limit: Updated X Date Projection

January 31H.R. 325, The Debt Limit, and Extraordinary Measures: A Technical Note

January 30When Will the Next Debt Limit X Date Be?

January 24

January 16

January 11

Learn More
Fiscal Outlook: Understanding The Federal Debt
U.S. Government Accountability Office