Since the single topic of the press conference that President Obama staged with his party's media collaborators on Tuesday, 8 October 2013 revolved around the topic of what could happen if the U.S. government chooses to default on its debt obligations, or as will more likely be the case, doesn't default on those obligations and instead doesn't spend as much as U.S. politicians would like it to spend, we thought we would go straight to the bottom line and find out how much the U.S. economy would be affected.
But first, we'll need some numbers, which CNBC tracked down for us:
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is about to face the very same choices confronted by any financially struggling American household: Which bills to pay and when to pay them.
If Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling by around Oct. 17, Lew, who has been in the job less than a year, will have to sit at his desk and figure out how to make due on roughly one-third less in the way of government funds for the bills he has to pay. Because he can no longer borrow, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center, government spending will fall by about 32 percent, or $108 billion in the first month.
On a side note, to put that situation in context, this is no different from what could very well happen just 20 years from now when Social Security's trust fund has been fully depleted, as expected. At that time, the federal government will reduce all payments to Social Security beneficiaries by roughly 26%, unless it significantly increases the amount it borrows. And that's if everything goes as U.S. politicians have promised without any spending reform - this is one reason why the political fight over the debt ceiling and government spending levels is taking place now, because waiting will make needed reforms so much more painful. Not to mention, more necessary.
Back now to the question at hand: how much would a government spending cut of that magnitude affect GDP?
The good news is that we can answer that question with just back-of-the-envelope math! And we can do it on a "daily" basis.
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