what happens if we hit the debt ceiling
Republicans this week will vote on a short-term debt ceiling increase that gives Washington three more months to agree on budget cuts.
The GOP would approve the short-term increase with the requirement that both the House and Senate pass a budget before the new deadline - or fail to get paid.
The move, according to Republican party strategists speaking to The Washington Post, was designed to give the GOP leverage in the spending cuts fight that will begin in March.
"Republicans have to do a better job of picking our fights," one prominent Republican consultant told The Post. "So, we need more concern about the impact of Obama's reckless spending before we fight with a guy who controls the bully pulpit."
Debates over what to do about the automatic spending cuts, or sequestration, will start before the new April 15 debt ceiling deadline. Republicans want drastic spending cuts, but if Congress can't agree, then deep across-the-board cuts will go into place anyway. Democrats will have to compromise if they want budget cuts other than the sequester.
The GOP compares this to the president's position in the fiscal cliff fight, when Democrats wanted tax hikes on the rich.
"In the fiscal cliff fight, the president had greater leverage because current law was on his side," a House Republican aide told The Post, noting that if nothing was done on the cliff taxes would have gone up on all Americans. By contrast, the aide added, "in the sequestration fight, we have greater leverage because current law is on our side."
What Happens if We Hit the Debt Ceiling?
With possibly less than a month before the United States hits its $16.4 trillion debt ceiling - aka falls off the "debt cliff" - the country is wondering what happens if Washington fails to raise the limit.
Almost everyone agrees that even though the GOP has hinted it will refuse to raise the debt limit to get its way with spending cuts, Congress will agree to another increase. The debt ceiling has been raised 79 times since 1960.
What could happen if it's not raised is a bit of a guessing game, since it's never happened before. But the consensus is we don't want to find out.
As Princeton professor and former vice-chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Blinder wrote in The Wall Street Journal Monday morning, "Since the federal government has never crashed into the debt ceiling before, nobody knows exactly what will happen if it does. But whatever does happen, it won't be pretty."
Here's a look at what could go down.
If We Hit the Debt Ceiling, Who Gets Paid?
Hitting the U.S. debt ceiling - or, falling off the debt cliff - means the government may not borrow any more money, so some payments would have to stop immediately.
As Blinder outlined, "At current rates of spending and taxation, federal receipts cover less than 74% of federal outlays. So if the government hits the debt ceiling at full speed, total outlays-which includes everything from Social Security benefits to soldiers' pay to interest on the national debt-will have to be trimmed by more than 26% immediately. That amounts to more than 6% of GDP, far more than the fiscal cliff we just avoided."
The Obama administration would be faced with a stark choice: Do we pay the interest on the national debt and avoid technical default?
If that is our choice, then we must also choose who will not get paid.
Will it be soldiers in Afghanistan? Retirees dependent upon their Social Security checks? Taxpayers waiting for tax refunds? Small businesses that have performed work for the U.S. government?