The U.S. Treasury, in order to avoid default, has resorted to an eyebrow-raising move: it has borrowed from the federal employee pension fund as the country nears its debt ceiling. The U.S. government stopped investing in the federal employee pension fund "to avoid breaching the statutory debt limit," according to a letter Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner sent to Congress.
Geithner said that the move will free up some $156 billion in borrowing authority, while policy leaders in Washington wrangle over raising the $16.4 trillion debt limit. Geithner promised the fund would be "made whole once the debt limit is increased," and maintains that federal employees and retirees would not be affected by the action. But an IOU from the federal government isn’t very settling for those relying on the fund for retirement.
This is not the first time the government has dipped into pension funds to pay for its overspending. The Treasury has suspended reinvestments in the federal pension fund, aka the G Fund, six times over the past two decades in order to keep the country under the legal debt limit. The most prolonged delay in raising the limit came in 1995 after congressional Republicans came into power during the Clinton administration.
The last time was Jan. 17, 2012, while a vote was pending to increase the debt ceiling by $1.2 trillion. The increase was approved, lifting the debt ceiling to its current $16.4 trillion limit, and a debt ceiling debacle like the one in August 2011 was averted.