Analysis of 2011-2012 Actions Taken and Effect of Delayed Increase on Borrowing Costs

July 23, 2012

On August 2, 2011, Congress and the President enacted the Budget Control Act of 2011, which established a process that increased the debt limit to its current level of $16.4 trillion through incremental increases effective on August 2, 2011; after close of business on September 21, 2011; and after close of business on January 27, 2012. Delays in raising the debt limit occurred prior to the August 2011 and January 2012 increases, with the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) deviating from its normal debt management operations and taking a number of actions, referred to by Treasury as extraordinary actions, to avoid exceeding the debt limit.

The extraordinary actions Treasury took during 2011 and January 2012 to manage federal debt when delays in raising the debt limit occurred were consistent with relevant legislation and regulations. For 2011, these actions included suspending investments of the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund (CSRDF), the Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Fund (Postal Benefits Fund), the Government Securities Investment Fund of the Federal Employees' Retirement System (G-Fund), and the Exchange Stabilization Fund (ESF), and redeeming certain investments held by the CSRDF earlier than normal. For January 2012, Treasury suspended investments to the G-Fund and ESF.

In accordance with relevant legislation, Treasury restored the uninvested principal and interest losses for 2011 and January 2012 to the CSRDF, Postal Benefits Fund, and G-Fund. Treasury also invested the uninvested principal for 2011 and January 2012 to the ESF. However, Treasury did not restore interest losses to the ESF because it lacks legislative authority to do so.

Delays in raising the debt limit can create uncertainty in the Treasury market and lead to higher Treasury borrowing costs. GAO estimated that delays in raising the debt limit in 2011 led to an increase in Treasury's borrowing costs of about $1.3 billion in fiscal year 2011. However, this does not account for the multiyear effects on increased costs for Treasury securities that will remain outstanding after fiscal year 2011. Further, according to Treasury officials, the increased focus on debt limit-related operations as such delays occurred required more time and Treasury resources and diverted Treasury's staff away from other important cash and debt management responsibilities. 

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