The total United States government spending for fiscal year 2011 is budgeted at $3.82 trillion. Of that amount we are borrowing $1.65 trillion in order to be able to pay all of our obligations. If the debt ceiling is not raised by August 2nd, effectively shutting down the government, we would have to the fill the deficit by cutting spending.
The first priority for what gets paid starts with the interest on our national debt which would take $207 billion. The next priority would be military operations, which is budgeted at $965 billion. The amount left over to fund all other U.S. government spending would be just shy of $1 trillion. It would require a 60% cut across the board to all of the other federal programs in order to balance the budget. This would affect every person who receives benefits from Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, education, transportation and infrastructure, unemployment, low income housing, environmental services, national parks services, public safety, prison security and on and on.
Trying to predict what would happen if the politicians in Washington failed to reach an agreement is difficult. However, because of the untenable nature of the spending cuts it doesn’t seem likely that a government shutdown would last long. The last two times it occurred, it lasted a total of six days in 1995 and around three weeks in late 1995 to early 1996.
We believe that a deal will get done before a shutdown happens. Our assessment of where things currently stand is that a deficit reduction package that both sides can come to an agreement on may not be possible by August 2nd. What can happen, however, is an agreement to punt the issue of making structural changes not only to spending but also our tax code (revenue) to the 2012 election. The leadership in the Senate is working on a backup plan that would give the President the authority to raise the debt limit without a specific approval by Congress. This would accomplish a short-term solution allowing more time for discussion of the two longer-term potential problems, health care costs and the appropriate level of tax revenues, to be addressed.
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