Congress has raised or suspended the country’s debt ceiling about 80 times since 1960. Now it must do so again. If not, sometime in October—it is impossible to predict precisely when—the Treasury Department’s cash balance will fall to an insufficient level, and the federal government will be unable to pay its bills.
The U.S. has always paid its bills on time, but the overwhelming consensus among economists and Treasury officials of both parties is that failing to raise the debt limit would produce widespread economic catastrophe. In a matter of days, millions of Americans could be strapped for cash. We could see indefinite delays in critical payments. Nearly 50 million seniors could stop receiving Social Security checks for a time. Troops could go unpaid. Millions of families who rely on the monthly child tax credit could see delays. America, in short, would default on its obligations.