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Recent evidence on political brinkmanship and Treasury yields

Srinivas Nippani (Department of Economics and Finance, Texas A&M University-Commerce, Commerce, Texas, USA)
Dror Parnes (Department of Economics and Finance, Texas A&M University-Commerce, Commerce, Texas, USA)

Journal of Financial Economic Policy

ISSN: 1757-6385

Article publication date: 7 August 2017




This paper aims to analyze how political brinkmanship impacted Treasury yields during the debt ceiling debate in 2015. The results show that the resignation of the House Speaker John A. Boehner caused a significant decrease in Treasury bill yields of one- and three-month maturities. The authors robust analysis indicates that these lower yields have saved US taxpayers several billion dollars in extra tax expenses. This paper provides evidence that lack of political brinkmanship can be very advantageous for the taxpayers. This has considerable implications for lawmakers in this post-election year.


The authors examine the differences in yields between equal maturity short-term Treasury securities and commercial paper using t-tests, non-parametric tests and a robust regression model based on earlier empirical studies.


This study provides evidence indicating that between September 25, 2015, and up to October 30, 2015, relatively lower Treasury yields resulted from the lack of political brinkmanship, and this has saved the US taxpayers several billion dollars in interest expenses in 2015.

Research limitations/implications

The study showed that lower yields will result from a lack of political brinkmanship, and this resulted in savings of several billions of dollars in interest payments. Considering that both the White House and Congress will be controlled by the same political party, this gives lawmakers a unique opportunity to have less acrimonious debt ceiling debates. The limitation of the study is that it does not consider the impact on foreign exchange markets and other factors which could play a major role.


Unlike earlier scenarios where default risk increased, followed by credit rating downgrades, there was a quiet confidence this time about a quick resolution. Markets were stable, and this allowed money market participants to invest more confidently even when an upcoming debt ceiling debate is on. Corporations that invested additional cash in money markets for short-term could do it more confidently at that time without fear of default or interest rate risk which could potentially harm the market value of their investments.


It implies that there will be lower taxpayer costs because of debt ceilings and avoidance of shutdowns of the federal government. It also implies that there could be more confidence in the dollar.


Several earlier studies have examined Treasury default caused by political brinkmanship. This is the first study to examine an event where political brinkmanship appeared possible and then suddenly dissipated in a single day. Political brinkmanship is bad news because it increases taxpayer interest burden as seen from several of the studies above. Therefore, it should be considered good news if no disagreement is evident. This argument serves as our motivation for this paper. As an increase in the chances of default causes an increase in the yield of Treasury bills as earlier studies showed, a decrease in the chance of default caused Treasury bill yields to be that much lower based on the results of this study.



The authors wish to thank Co-Editor John Jahera; two anonymous referees from the Journal of Financial Economic Policy; and Stanley D. Smith, Lloyd Blenman, Kenneth M. Washer and Lirong Liu for their valuable comments and suggestions. Harika Vasireddy provided excellent research assistance. They would also like to acknowledge for giving them the pricing data for the contract and Christopher Chidzik for offering the interpretation of the contract pricing. In addition, they wish to express gratitude to Patricia Nickinson for her helpful editorial comments.


Nippani, S. and Parnes, D. (2017), "Recent evidence on political brinkmanship and Treasury yields", Journal of Financial Economic Policy, Vol. 9 No. 3, pp. 324-337.



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