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Yellen warns of US default risk by early June, urges debt limit hike

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Yellen warns of US default risk by early June, urges debt limit hike

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Friday the United States will likely hit the $31.4 trillion statutory debt limit on Jan. 19, forcing the Treasury to launch extraordinary cash management measures that can likely prevent default until early June.

“Once the limit is reached, Treasury will need to start taking certain extraordinary measures to prevent the United States from defaulting on its obligations,” Yellen said in a letter to new Republican House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy and other congressional leaders.

She urged the lawmakers to act quickly to raise the debt ceiling to “protect the full faith and credit” of the United States.

“While Treasury is not currently able to provide an estimate of how long extraordinary measures will enable us to continue to pay the government s obligations, it is unlikely that cash and extraordinary measures will be exhausted before early June,” the letter said.

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Republicans now in control of the House have threatened to use the debt ceiling as leverage to demand spending cuts from Democrats and the Biden administration. This has raised concerns in Washington and on Wall Street about a bruising fight over the debt ceiling this year that could be at least as disruptive as the protracted battle of 2011, which prompted a brief downgrade of the U.S. credit rating and years of forced domestic and military spending cuts.

The White House said on Friday after Yellen s letter that it will not negotiate over raising the debt ceiling.

“This should be done without conditions,” White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters. “There’s going to be no negotiation over it.”

House Republicans are planning to move a “debt prioritization” measure by the end of March that would call on the U.S. Treasury to continue making certain payments once it reaches the debt ceiling, but details have not been finalized, a person familiar with the plan told Reuters. The proposal was first reported by the Washington Post.

The Republican plan will call on the Treasury Department to keep making interest payments on the debt, the Post reported, citing sources. It may also stipulate the Treasury should continue making payments on Social Security, Medicare and veterans benefits, and fund the military, the newspaper said.

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The plan was part of a private deal reached this month to resolve the standoff between right-wing hardliners in the House and McCarthy over his election as House speaker, the Post said.

Yellen s estimate expressing confidence that the government could pay its bills only through early June without increasing the limit marks a deadline considerably sooner than forecasts by some outside budget analysts that the government would exhaust its cash and borrowing capacity – the so called “X Date” – sometime in the third quarter of calendar 2023.

Analysts have noted that some Treasury bills maturing in the second half of the year are sporting a premium in their yields that may be tied to elevated risk of a default in that window.

“You could read this partly as trying to get Congress to act sooner rather than later,” said Bipartisan Policy Center economics director Shai Akabas, adding that Treasury was being conservative in its approach.

Yellen said that there was “considerable uncertainty” around the length of time that extraordinary measures could stave off default, due to a variety of factors, including the challenges of forecasting the government s payments and revenues months into the future.

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PENSION INVESTMENTS SUSPENDED

As of Wednesday, Treasury data showed that US federal debt stood $78 billion below the limit, with a Treasury operating cash balance of $346.4 billion. The department on Thursday reported an $85 billion December deficit as revenues eased and outlays grew, particularly for debt interest costs.

Yellen said in her letter that the Treasury this month anticipates suspending new investments in two government retiree funds for pensions and healthcare, as well as suspending reinvestments in the Government Securities Investment Fund, or G Fund, part of a savings plan for federal employees. The retirement investments are restored once the debt ceiling is raised.

“The use of extraordinary measures enables the government to meet its obligations for only a limited amount of time,” Yellen wrote to McCarthy and other congressional leaders.

“It is therefore critical that Congress act in a timely manner to increase or suspend the debt limit. Failure to meet the government’s obligations would cause irreparable harm to the U.S. economy, the livelihoods of all Americans, and global financial stability,” Yellen wrote. 

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Budget 2024-25: Sindh announces up to 30pc increase in salaries

Budget 2024-25: Sindh announces up to 30pc increase in salaries

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Budget 2024-25: Sindh announces up to 30pc increase in salaries

The Sindh government has proposed up to 30 percent increase in salaries of its employees in the budget for next fiscal year 2024-25. 

Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, who also holds the portfolio of finance minister, presented the budget in the provincial assembly on Friday. 

He said the government had proposed 30pc increase in salaries of officials from Grade 1 to 6, adding that there was 25pc increase for officials of Grade 7 to 16. Similarly, officers from Grade 17 to 22 would get 22pc hike in their salaries. 

Furthermore, the provincial government has propsed 15pc increase in pension of the retired employees. 

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Presenting the budget with a total outlay of Rs3,352 billion, he said, the government had decided to allocate Rs959 billion for development projects.

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Rs37,000 minimum wage: Sindh follows in the footstep of federal govt, Punjab

Rs37,000 minimum wage: Sindh follows in the footstep of federal govt, Punjab

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Rs37,000 minimum wage: Sindh follows in the footstep of federal govt, Punjab

The Sindh government has revised the minimum wage for unskilled labourers to Rs37,000 in line with decisions of the federal and Punjab governments. 

The minimum salary has been increased by Rs5,000 as previously it stood at Rs32,000. The proposal was laid forth by Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah while presenting the budget for the fiscal year 2024-25. 

Meanwhile, the Sindh government has proposed up to 30 percent increase in salaries of its employees in the budget for next fiscal year 2024-25. 

The chief minister said the government had proposed 30pc increase in salaries of officials from Grade 1 to 6, adding that there was 25pc increase for officials of Grade 7 to 16. Similarly, officers from Grade 17 to 22 would get 22pc hike in their salaries. 

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Furthermore, the provincial government has propsed 15pc increase in pension of the retired employees.

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Budget 2024-25: Let’s figure out the cost of essentials

Budget 2024-25: Let’s figure out the cost of essentials

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Budget 2024-25: Let's figure out the cost of essentials

The federal government has announced a staggering Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) worth Rs1,500 billion. 

According to the budget document, all federal divisions have been allocated budget, except the Poverty Alleviation and Special Safety Division, which deals directly with matters concerning 95 million people who are living in abject poverty. 

Sadly, the Poverty Alleviation and Special Safety Division gets nothing in the PSDP 2024-25. 

Worse still, the Ministry of Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety does not have any minister as its head, rendering it almost moribund for more than 10 months. Earlier, Dr Sania Nishtar was chairing it during the PTI government, followed by Shazia Marri during the PDM government. 

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Last year, 12.5 million people slipped into poverty, which took it from 34.2pc to 39.4pc, according to the World Bank. 

The government has conveniently ignored the poor in the budget. Other than announcing Rs598.71billion under the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), no substantial amount has been earmarked for reducing poverty. 

Your next read: BUDGET 2024-25 – A LAYMAN’S GUIDE 

Analysts believe that 27 percent increase in BISP from Rs471.3 billion to Rs598.71 billion has been made to placate the Pakistan Peoples Party, which may take the wind out of PML-N’s sails anytime. 

BURGEONING TAXES 

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On the other hand, if we delve into the details of burgeoning taxes, Sales Tax stands out in afflicting the poor the most. 

Now a sales tax of 10pc will be charged on stationery items. 

Tribal area residents who have been experiencing extreme poverty will now have to pay 6pc tax on the supply and import of plant machinery as well as electricity on both residential and commercial connections. 

Following the similar trajectory, a 10pc sales tax will be charged on the local supply of vermicelli, buns, poultry feed, cattle feed, sunflower seed meal, newsprint, books, oil cakes and tractors. 

On mobile phones whose value is less than $500 (Rs139,240), 18pc tax has been imposed. If the value of purchased phone exceeds $500, an existing rate of 25pc will remain unchanged. 

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Earlier, the retailers of leather and textile products who paid 15pc sales tax will now have to pay 18pc tax. 

Drug prices will increase massively as the sales tax on raw materials used in production of pharmaceutical items has been raised to 18pc from 1pc. This will be applicable on medical treatment, diagnostic equipment, heart surgery, neurosurgery, electrophysiology, endoscopy, endosurgery, oncology, urology, gynaecology, disposables and other medical equipment.

Besides, 20pc sales tax on import of syringes, needles, catheters, cannulae, blood collection tube of glass and blood collection tube of PET.

Moreover, charitable hospitals with 50 or more beds will pay 18pc sales tax on imported medical goods. 

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