Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday that the GOP “will not support legislation that raises the debt limit” when referring to a spending bill currently awaiting a Senate vote that would both raise the debt ceiling and avert a looming government shutdown.
Any party-wide effort by the GOP would likely be enough to sink the bill, considering that Democrats hold only 50 seats in the Senate, less than the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster.
If the bill doesn’t pass, the government — provided a different, more successful bill does not take its place — would shut down, effective midnight on Sept. 30. While the government has shut down before, it has never done so under such circumstances as the country is in today, reeling from a global pandemic.
As explained by MarketWatch, a shutdown would entail a major decrease, or even a total pause, in government operations that are deemed non-essential. Past shutdowns have resulted in the furloughing of thousands of government workers, including thousands from the CDC, along with a general descaling of CDC operations: options which are significant during a pandemic.
Along with a shutdown, the stalling of this bill would send the United States’s debt over the previously set debt limit, which would force the U.S. to default. Contrary to government shutdowns, this is unprecedented territory for the U.S.
In the past, the debt ceiling has been raised whenever it needed to be, due to a fear of the consequences of a debt default. In a letter to Congress from 2011, former Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner warned that a default on the national debt would hike interest rates, which would increase costs for governments, businesses and consumers. He also said it would cause a fall in value of the U.S. Dollar and the inability for the government to operate, including some essential services that a government shutdown would otherwise protect. This includes a stoppage of social security payments, student loan payments and the payment of federal and military salaries, among other services.
Congress still has until Sept. 30 to work this out, and a similar crisis was averted at the last minute in 2013, when Congress was led by many of the same people who lead it today. Nevertheless, it goes without saying that — should this impasse continue, especially in the midst of the pandemic — a shutdown and debt default would not bode well for the country.