Former U.S. Comptroller General: Who’s Going to Get Paid?

By Eliza

Jul 7, 2011 5:22pm

ABC News’ Sherisse Pham (@sherisse) reports:

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said that missing the August 2 deadline to raise the debt ceiling would result in catastrophic economic and market consequences.

But Republican leaders are doubtful such Armageddon-like consequences will come to light. On ABC’s Top Line, GOP lawmakers have repeatedly dismissed the deadline, saying they are “not afraid” of it, as Rep. Allen West, R-Fl., put it. Or in the words of Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, “it’s not like the world ends on August 2nd.”

In a literal sense, Jordan is right, it is unlikely the world will cease to exist if Republican and Democratic lawmakers fail to come to an agreement. But what exactly will happen — we’re talking dollars and cents here — if Congress fails to pass a budget amendment in time for that early August deadline?

The answer: a $4 billion-a-day gap in revenues coming in and expenditures going out, according to former U.S. Comptroller General, David Walker. And that includes weekends.

 

Indeed, the United States is already in the hole when you run the revenue-minus-expenditures equation.

“Our revenues are so low this year, and our mandatory spending is so high, we’re $2 billion bucks a week short of being able to pay mandatory spending,” said Walker, a shortfall that comes after eliminating all discretionary spending. Walker is also the founder and CEO of the Comeback America Initiative.

“National defense, homeland security, education, transportation, state department, congress, the White House  - you could eliminate all of that. We’re still 2 billion a week short.”

But back to what would happen post August-2nd. The United States Constitution protects bond holders, said Walker, so interest trade payments on those bonds must be paid. And then there’s the pay penalties of interest for all government employees laid off in the event of a government shutdown. Historically the president and congress retroactively paid people once the crisis passed. But such a move could affect interest rates.

“For every one percent increase of interest rates – 100 basis points – it’s $150 billion bucks a year,” said Walker. “That’s real money.”

Decisions on debt and the debt ceiling should ultimately come from the executive branch of government, said Walker, because Congress is incapable of handling them.

“Congress is totally dysfunctional right now. You cannot run a country by committee. Congress is a committee. There’s nobody in charge of the committee. They can’t even control their own caucuses right now,” said Walker.

Walker is reportedly looking to address that dysfunctional himself; he is reportedly leaning toward running for the open Connecticut Senate seat in 2012, according to the Washington Post.

Like Geithner and several economists have warned, Walker says it is a bad idea to flirt with the deadline, and wait until the last minute to broker a deal. There is no precedence for failing to raise the debt ceiling, but Walker pointed to a similar debt scenario in the 1970s, when the U.S. did not pay $100-$200 million worth of its payments on time during the oil crisis. The late payment pushed interest rates up 60 basis points, or 0.601 per cent, said Walker.

“Sixty basis points on our debt is about $90 billion a year. And what do you get for that 90 billion bucks? Nothing.”

This time around, should the US be late on its payments again, it would likely affect the stock market as well as interest rates. The government, says Walker, needs to get a deal in place before that deadline.

“Look, we’re the largest economy on Earth, the world’s sole super power, 60 percent plus of global reserve currency, we cannot afford to take a risk.”

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