D-DAY: WILL THE U.S. DEFAULT ON DEBT?

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By Miriam Raftery and Nadin Abbott

October 16, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – If Congress and the President don’t pass a spending bill and raise the debt ceiling, tomorrow the United States will default on its debts for the first time in our nation’s history. 

The heads of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce representing businesses, the AFL-CIO representing labor unions, and the nonprofit United Way have all urged Congress to end the shutdown and avoid a default. 

If the nation defaults on its debts, economists warn this could trigger a stock market crash, soaring interest rates, and a global recession.  The U.S. would be unable to borrow money and would be able to spend only cash on hand creating an uncertain future for all who rely on federal money, including Social Security and Medicare recipients.  Foreign creditors could seek to cash out their U.S. bond holdings, leaving the government unable to pay its debts.    Standard and Poors has downgraded the U.S. credit rating in reaction to the stalemate in Washington, CCN.

The impasse began when House Republicans passed a spending bill that defunded the Affordable Healthcare Act known as Obamacare.  The Senate and President refused to approve this, and a government shut-down began October 1st, leaving federal workers furloughed without pay, national parks shut down, and brought a halt to many federal programs from small business loans to student loans to help for hungry Americans under the WIC, or Women, Infants and Children supplemental nutrition program.

Today, Senate leaders in both parties announced they have reached a deal to avoid a shut down, though details have not been released as of when we are taping this show Wednesday at mid-day.   But the deal must still be approved by the House, and there is still no assurances that the House will accept the deal. Reportedly, 17 Republicans will need to join with 200 Democrats pledged to pass the measure in order to secure passage.  That will require a simple vote in which majority rules --  but Republicans have been blocking this, insisting on bringing to floor votes only measures that have a majority of Republicans in agreement -- a procedure known as the Hastert Rule, though former Speaker of the House Dennis Haster has since repudiated the tactic.

If the Senators' deal is approved by the House and President Barack Obama, it would only be a short-term fix, funding the government through January 15 and raising the debt ceiling until February 7.  After that, the battle would begin anew. 

According to CNN, polls indicate that voters are overwhelmingly critical of Congress for the shut-down, though substantially more voters blame Republicans than Democrats or the President.

One option is for the House to allow a vote on a “clean continuing resolution,” meaning a spending bill that includes the funds for the healthcare reforms already passed by Congress and upheld by the Supreme Court.

Among local legislators, Democrats Susan Davis, Juan Vargas and Scott Peters all favor this approach. 

Now Republican Darrell Issa has announced that he would break from Tea Party extremists and would vote for  a Republican version of a clean continuing resolution that would fund most Affordable Care Act provisions but that would rescind health insurance subsidies for members of Congress, the White House and their staff members – placing all of them under Obamacare.

Of the San Diego Congressional delegation, that leaves only Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter uncommitted to prevent a default.  East County Magazine called  Hunter’s office.  A staffer predicts that there will not be a vote on clean Continuing resolution in the House.  The staffer added , however, that if Issa’s proposal is added, Hunter would consider the proposal. 

The East County Chamber of Commerce told ECM that it has no position on the matter, putting the local Chamber at odds with the U.S. Chamber, which has strongly urged Congress to avoid a default on America’s debt.