No matter what happens with the fiscal cliff over the next few days, a potentially bigger budget mess is just around the corner.
Congress will have to raise the debt ceiling soon, probably by late February or early March.
The deadline sets the tables for another fight on Capitol Hill, where some Republican lawmakers view the debt limit as leverage in negotiations with President Obama over spending cuts and reforms to Medicare and Social Security.
The debt ceiling is a law that goes back to the early 1900s that caps how much debt the federal government can hold.
Last week, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner warned Congress that federal borrowing would hit the $16.394 trillion debt ceiling on Monday.
Treasury can then buy the government about $200 billion of borrowing headroom by temporarily shifting how some U.S. holdings are invested. With the public debt increasing about $100 billion a month, that gives Treasury about two more months to borrow and stay under the cap.
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