Washington Insider-- Monday

Debt Limit Looms

Here's a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN's well-placed observer.

Farm Bureau Says Mexico Official Assured Glyphosate Ban Does Not Apply to Feed

Mexican Economy Secretary Tatiana Clouthier met with American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall in Washington last week, telling reporters that he got a key update from Clouthier on the country's coming ban glyphosate.

Duvall told reporters on Thursday he got clarity on the Mexican government's plan to ban the widely used herbicide glyphosate by 2024: It only applies to crops grown for human consumption and not those grown for animal feed, he said.

Meanwhile, the brief readout of the session between Clouthier and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai did not mention the ag issues, but indicated the U.S. "remains committed to the full implementation of the USMCA, including the strong auto rules of origin, and Mexico's important labor reforms."

Former Iowa U.S. Rep. Finkenauer to Challenge For Grassley Seat

Former Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa, defeated after serving one term in the House of Representatives, announced Thursday she will seek the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by longtime Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley.

Finkenauer is "the first major Democrat to announce a Senate run in Iowa," Axios reported, noting that Grassley has not yet said he will run for another term in office.

The Associated Press said that Finkenauer, "despite losing her House seat in 2020 after one term, remains a youthful prospect in the Iowa Democratic Party, which has struggled to produce a new generation for statewide office."

According to the Des Moines Register, Finkenauer has put her attention on "many of the themes that motivated her two campaigns for Congress, including a focus on working Iowans and support for the middle class."

Washington Insider: Debt Limit Looms

As attention remains on the trillions in dollars of spending being pushed by the Biden administration via the bipartisan infrastructure package and a "social" infrastructure plan, another spending issue is rising and it is one that, unlikely infrastructure, has to be dealt with -- the debt limit.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen penned a letter to congressional leaders late last week, urging them they needed to act on the debt limit before the end of September.

"Once the current debt limit suspension expires at the end of July, the department will begin using so-called extraordinary measures, or budget maneuvering," Yellen said, steps that will keep the U.S. from defaulting on its obligations.

It is not clear how long the government can use these extraordinary measures before they would hit a default. CQ said Yellen's plea was that lawmakers needed to act "as soon as possible," the publication said, "to avoid an event similar to or worse than the 2011 debt limit standoff when the country experienced the only credit rating downgrade in its history."

What can affect these extraordinary measures and how they can stave off a U.S. debt default? "The period of time that extraordinary measures may last is subject to considerable uncertainty due to a variety of factors, including the challenges of forecasting the payments and receipts of the U.S. government months into the future, exacerbated by the heightened uncertainty in payments and receipts related to the economic impact of the pandemic," Yellen said.

August 1 will see the Treasury start these measures as that is the date that the most-recent debt-limit deal expires. Treasury, Yellen said, would start by suspending sales of special state and local government securities, to remain technically within the borrowing cap, which on that day will reset to roughly $28.5 trillion. The agency's cash balance, which sat at $616 billion as of Wednesday, is expected to drop to $450 billion by the end of the month, CQ said.

The Congressional Budget Office last week predicted that the extraordinary measures will probably allow the Treasury to make to October or November before action would be needed by either raising the debt limit or suspending it once again.

But Yellen is not apparently in agreement with CBO. She said the Treasury was likely to burn through some $150 billion in available cash and extraordinary measures, including large payments for military retirement and health care benefits.

"There are scenarios in which cash and extraordinary measures could be exhausted soon after Congress returns from recess," Yellen said, referring to the Senate scheduled to return from the August congressional recess September 13 and the House September 20.

As for options for Congress, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) said there are four options: (1) leave the debt limit in place; (2) increase the debt limit to allow for further federal borrowing; (3) maintain the current debt limit and require the implementation of "extraordinary measures" that will postpone (but not prevent) a binding debt limit; or (4) temporarily suspend or abolish the debt limit.

Congress has enacted 98 separate debt limit modifications between the end of World War II and the present to accommodate the changes in federal debt levels, CRS said. Since 2001, Congress has passed 17 distinct changes to the debt limit.

The mention of 2011 comes to mind as an event where the debt-limit issue actually had some impacts on the government. For one, the U.S. debt rating was lowered. That sent shudders through financial markets. A 2013 report by the Treasury Department said, "Because the debt ceiling impasse contributed to the financial market disruptions, reduced confidence and increased uncertainty, the economic expansion [in 2011] was no doubt weaker than it otherwise would have been."

But Republicans have also thrown another potential roadblock up on the debt limit, saying they will either not help Democrats if they want to suspend the debt limit, or they have set up a list of demands that would get their support for action on the debt limit. But many view their apparent list as unrealistic.

One suggestion from 15 Republicans on the House Budget Committee would be another decade long series of spending caps on discretionary spending, similar to the 2011 deficit reduction law (PL 112-25) that the federal government is just emerging from.

However, Democrats could opt to use budget reconciliation to raise the debt limit, a move that would mean they would not need Republican support to take the action. But they would likely have to set a specific dollar amount for the allowable debt as opposed to just setting a new date for a suspension of the debt limit.

Yellen, however, called on congressional leaders to find a bipartisan solution. "In recent years Congress has addressed the debt limit through regular order, with broad bipartisan support," she wrote. "I respectfully urge Congress to protect the full faith and credit of the United States by acting as soon as possible."

So we will see. The debt limit looms as a truly must-have situation as a lack of action could have disastrous impacts that would likely raise borrowing costs and potentially slow the economic recovery from the pandemic and the situation will need to be monitored closely, Washington Insider believes.

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