Congress, it appears, is poised to raise the debt ceiling. If that happens, the government will be able to pay its obligations by going deeper into hock.
If it doesn't, the United States will not have enough money (cash on hand plus incoming tax revenue) to pay all its bills, and would, presumably, have to decide which to pay now and which later.
Expert opinion is divided on whether such an option is realistic because, as Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has testified before Congress, government software and systems for bill-paying are so complex that modifying them to make selective payments would be neither quick nor easy. Prioritizing bills, Lew says, would invite "chaos."
Whatever will be the future ability of the United States to pay its obligations, here, below, are the biggest bills that will come due between now and Nov. 15, according to the Congressional Budget Office and the Bipartisan Policy Center:
Oct. 1: $42 billion -- consisting of Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D plans; pay for active-duty members of the military; and benefit payments for civil service and military retirees, veterans and recipients of Supplemental Security Income.
Oct. 3: $25 billion -- Payments of Social Security benefits.
Oct. 9, 16 and 23: $12 billion each time -- Social Security benefit payments.
Oct. 28: $3 billion -- Federal employee salaries.
Oct. 30: $2 billion -- Medicaid payments to providers.
Oct. 31: $6 billion -- Candy for Congressional trick-or-treaters. Only kidding! Payment of interest on Treasury securities.
Nov. 1: $67 billion -- Social Security benefits; payments to Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D plans; pay for active-duty members of the military; and benefit payments for civil service and military retirees, veterans and recipients of Supplemental Security Income.
Nov. 13: $12 billion -- Payments of Social Security benefits.
Nov. 15: $30 billion -- Quarterly payment of interest on Treasury securities.