Will the US government ever reopen? "Probably" is the best answer we can give right now. With day 15 of the shutdown under way and the debt ceiling limit and default approaching quickly, America's leaders are pressed to find a deal. We spoke to Democratic Congresswoman and DNC head Debbie Wasserman Schultz this morning, and she said she's worried "every second we are delaying resolving this crisis is a second closer to default." To keep you up to speed, here are some shutdown and default FAQs and answers.
What exactly is the debt limit?
The debt limit is the amount of money the US government can legally borrow. On Oct. 17, the US government will reach its current $16.7 trillion debt limit. That means unless Congress raises that limit, the US will default on bills it already owes for things like Social Security, Medicare, military salaries, tax refunds, and more. Raising the debt limit does not authorize new spending; it just lets the US pay its existing obligations.
President Obama said in a press conference last week that since it's called the "debt ceiling," many Americans mistakenly believe it has to do with increasing the debt. But, he said, doing so "does not add a dime to our debt. It simply says you pay for what Congress has already authorized America to purchase."
What happens if it's not raised?
Just the possibility that it wouldn't be raised caused serious economic consequences in 2011, including a downgrade in the US credit rating and a setback of economic recovery. If Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling, it would be the first time the US has defaulted. The US Treasury says it could cause a financial crisis as serious as the one in 2008.
So why don't they just raise it?
Republicans want to negotiate before they agree to raise the debt ceiling. They've called for concessions on the deficit, the Keystone XL pipeline, or Obamacare. Some Democrats say that's the equivalent of political terrorism: making political demands by threatening to blow up the American economy.
Is there a solution in sight?
While President Obama and congressional leaders have had discussions about a deal over the past few days, today Obama rejected a proposal from House Republicans. Rep. Wasserman Schultz gave us the Democratic perspective on it: "The Republicans in the House just came out with a deal that the White House rejected, that yet again puts the Affordable Care Act and other extraneous, irrelevant, and unrelated provisions for reopening the government and paying our bills. And that's irresponsible." The plan added delays and defunding to Obamacare, but Speaker Boehner may tweak it and bring it to a vote. Meanwhile, negotiations in the Senate have been put on hold.
What's the Republican position right now?
In a press conference this morning, Speaker Boehner told reporters, "There are a lot of opinions about what direction to go. There have been no decisions about what exactly we will do." It appears Boehner might not have been able to get enough votes for the plan eventually rejected by the White House anyway, since it did not satisfy more conservative members.
Keep reading for a look at the shutdown's impact and what voters think.
Back to the shutdown — how many people are being impacted by it?
More people than in 1996. Last week, a poll found that 28 percent of respondents are personally inconvenienced by the current shutdown, and 15 percent are inconvenienced in a major way. In the last shutdown, only 16 percent said it was an inconvenience.
What does that impact look like?
Well, we knew things like national parks and museums would be closed, but the impact has reached unexpected places. The National Hurricane Center was not operating at full capacity, and FEMA had to recall furloughed employees when tropical storm Karen picked up steam. Visitors to the National Hurricane Center's website saw this message: "Due to the Federal Government shutdown, NOAA.gov and most associated websites are unavailable." Also, brides and grooms around the country who planned to get married in parks or sites run by the government had to cancel their receptions and make other plans. And small-business owners trying to get a loan or patent couldn't, as the US stopped processing applications.
How much is this costing?
Every day the government is shut down costs $160 million. So far that adds up to $1.6 billion.
Will the furloughed workers get paid?
During this shutdown, Congress actually agreed on something: to backpay all the government workers who are at home right now forbidden to work. Therefore, shutting down the government is not saving any money in worker salaries. But at least the workers know they'll be able to pay their bills . . . eventually.
What do voters think?
It's likely the GOP is hoping for an end to the drama, which has resulted in an all-time low approval rating, according to a recent NBC/WSJ poll. Meanwhile, approval for President Obama and Obamacare have risen since the shutdown.