That the debt ceiling needs to be raised beyond its current level of $20.5 trillion isn't news; that it needs to be done by the first half of March is. The Congressional Budget Office on Wednesday drew the line in the sand there thanks to the new tax law, which it says will drop income tax withholdings by $10 billion to $15 billion per month. That decrease is only starting to kick in now, as the IRS stipulates the new withholding tables must be used by mid-February. The Hill reports the CBO had in November calculated the government would run out of money in late March or early April. As of Tuesday, the Treasury Department's cash reserves sat at $272 billion. The Washington Post points out that though that may seem like a healthy reserve, the money goes quickly.
Some $50 billion goes out the door at the start of each month just to cover Social Security benefits and military pensions, and tax refunds usually start flowing in February (the February and March tab for those in 2017 was $211 billion). On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tried to rally lawmakers around the idea of raising the debt ceiling ASAP, lest the government exhaust its cash and default on its debt or be forced to delay payments. The Hill provides context: "Votes on the debt limit have been tough for Republicans in the past, because they have sought to pair increases in the limit with cuts in spending." The opportunity for a vote will likely surface within the coming days: The government is currently funded through just Feb. 8. (Read more debt ceiling stories.)