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Washington Heads Toward September Storm

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

No reasonable person can absolutely predict that a major hurricane will or will not hit the United States before the end of September.

It might happen. It might not.

As Barbara Hollingsworth reported at CNSNews.com last Oct. 24, that day marked the completion of a record 11 straight years in which no major hurricane -- Category 3 or higher -- had made landfall on the continental United States.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration meteorologist Dennis Feltgen confirmed that fact. "The last one to do so was Hurricane Wilma on October 24, 2005," he told Hollingsworth.

In 2005, in the wake of Wilma, what climate-change alarmist would have predicted the United States would not see another such hurricane for more than a decade?

Would Barack Obama have predicted that?

The Washington establishment, however, is more predictable than the weather.

Hence: There will be a political storm -- a great deal of insincere sound and fury from both office holders and the media -- before the end of September.

Two forces will give rise to this storm: the legal limit on the federal debt and the end of the federal fiscal year.

They are converging.

The debt limit side of the storm has been in place for five months -- patiently waiting for the secretary of the Treasury to declare its time has come to blow across Capitol Hill.

The debt limit is where it is because of a carefully calculated deal President Obama made with a Republican-controlled Congress on Nov. 2, 2015 -- one year before the 2016 election. That deal was nobly named "The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015." As stated in its summary: "Subsection 901(a) provides for the temporary suspension of the limit on public debt through March 15, 2017."

After the Ides of March, the limit would be reset at whatever level the debt happened to reach that day.

In effect, the "Bipartisan Budget Act" gave Obama and the last Republican-controlled Congress an open-ended credit card until after the 2016 election.

That helped avert a political storm over federal borrowing and spending in the days leading up to that election.

But what has happened since March 15?

First, on March 16, under the terms of the act, the legal limit on the debt was reset at $19,808,772,381,624.74 -- the level it reached March 15.

That means the federal debt climbed approximately $1,356,664,381,624 (from a starting point of $18,452,108,000,000) in the 16 1/2 months the limit was suspended.

It also means that during those 16 1/2 months, the government borrowed about $11,443 per each of the 118,562,000 households the Census Bureau estimated were in the United States as of March.

The day the law reset the limit at $19,808,772,381,624.74, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin sent a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan stating that he had declared a "debt issuance suspension period."

This is a period in which the Treasury, under law, can account for its borrowing through "extraordinary measures" such as temporarily taking money out of various government funds, including the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund. Thus, the Treasury temporarily avoids breaching the limit.

With the help of these temporary "extraordinary measures," according to the Daily Treasury Statement, the debt subject to the legal limit has closed every day since March 15 at $19,808,747,000,000 -- about $25 million below the limit.

But the Treasury cannot do this forever. In a letter to Ryan on July 28, Mnuchin predicted the Treasury would exhaust its ability to take funds from the CSRDF near the end of September.

"Based upon our available information, I believe that it is critical that Congress act to increase the nation's borrowing authority by September 29, 2017," Mnuchin said.

Fiscal 2017 and the appropriations that run the government for this fiscal year expire on Sept. 30.

Near the end of September, therefore, Congress must enact legislation to deal with the debt limit and fund the government into fiscal 2018.

There will be much sound and fury at that time. But what will it signify?

While President Donald Trump's budget admirably calls for eliminating many unnecessary federal programs, both his plan and the one proposed by the Republican House do not call for balancing the annual federal budget until 10 years from now.

Until then, they intend to borrow more.

As September comes to a close, the Democrats in Congress and liberals in the media will castigate the Republicans unless and until they agree to spend even more than their current deficit-spending plan envisions.

Will the Republicans, who now control both houses of Congress and the White House, finally take a stand?

Just as it would be irrational to predict that the United States will never again be hit by a major hurricane, it is also irrational to predict the federal government can continue borrowing money year after year and not face a debt crisis.

But the difference between a major hurricane and the impending debt crisis is that the latter is indisputably manmade.

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