Debt Ceiling vs. Government Shutdown: 5 Questions Answered
Confused about the many issues that seem to be the subject of so much disagreement in Washington these days? Not sure how a deal could exist that would raise the debt ceiling but not address the current government shutdown? Wondering what the shutdown has to do with the debt ceiling? It's a complex situation to be sure, with many continuously moving parts. Here's an attempt to straighten some of it out, with a look at five questions you might be wondering about all that mishegas inside the Beltway.
Is the government shutdown actually related to the debt ceiling? Officially, no. The government shutdown originated out of the on-going fight over the Affordable Care Act. In short, the U.S. government operates on a yearly budget that runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 (the government's fiscal year), and each year it falls to Congress to authorize a new budget by passing a spending bill. This year, however, Republicans in Congress attached to the spending bill a delay of the ACA along with a repeal of the medical device tax part of the law - a non-starter with the Democratically controlled Senate and of course with President Obama. When a deal couldn't be reached on a spending bill by Sept. 30, a partial shutdown of the government resulted.
The debt ceiling debate is an argument between Republicans and Democrats over raising the country's borrowing limit. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has stated the government will run out of money to pay its bills on Oct. 17 unless said limit is raised, hitting our debt ceiling so to speak.
Why are they being linked together? In essence, it's a function of timing. The end of the fiscal year and the date forecasted by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew when the debt ceiling would hit fell very close together, and when the shutdown came, the Oct. 17 debt ceiling deadline was rapidly approaching. Many Republicans saw the impending debt ceiling negotiations as an opportunity to obtain some sort of legislative victory out of the shutdown.
Why is Congress even involved in the debt ceiling negotiations? Shouldn't that be the Treasury Department's jurisdiction? It falls to lawmakers in Congress to approve any increases in the cap on what the government can borrow to pay its bills. In order for the debt ceiling to be raised, it must first be authorized by Congress as either a standalone bill or an amendment to other legislation (such as, say, an appropriations bill.)
If Republicans and Democrats make a deal to raise the debt ceiling that does not include funding the government, what incentive will lawmakers have to end the shutdown? The biggest incentive is job security- or more accurately, the fear of losing it. A slew of polls conducted since the shutdown began on Oct. 1 show approval rates for Congress, and for the president, plummeting as a result of the dysfunction in Washington. The message from constituents to their representatives: shape up or ship out. Favorability ratings for both parties range from bad to worse, though Republicans appear to be bearing the brunt of the blame.
How long can this government shutdown actually last? Great question. At some point, someone and something will have to give- the question still is who, what and when.