The government will shut down if Congress does not pass (and the president does not sign) a funding bill by the end of the month to keep the government going. The government will default on its debt if Congress does not pass (and the president does not sign) a debt-limit increase before some point in October.
Here’s what you need to know about these deadlines:
1. It doesn’t matter — at all — that the House has only a handful of scheduled days in session remaining this month. More days can be added.
2. Similarly: Once something is ready, it’s possible for Congress to act extremely rapidly if members want to. A bill can be taken up and passed in both chambers in a matter of hours if necessary, depending on whether anyone in the Senate wants to slow it down.
3. The government shutdown is a hard deadline; if a continuing resolution is not passed, the government shuts down. However, it’s very easy for Congress to reset the clock with a short-term extension, which can be months, weeks or even as little as one day. Such extensions have been common in past budget fights, including multiple short-term extensions. Of course, both sides have to agree to it. As with a final bill, an extension can move through Congress extremely quickly, as long as everyone in the Senate cooperates.
4. The debt limit can also be extended short-term, but that’s a little trickier. Part of the potential damage from going past the debt limit is the reaction of the markets, and they can get spooked by, well, anything. In principle, however, the same thing applies: If Congress runs out of time, the calendar can be pushed back a little.
5. Last point: There are rules for government shutdowns if Congress hasn’t appropriated funds to keep the government going; the rules set out what is exempted and what isn’t. Most of that is subject to administrative changes, and Congress can enact new laws that would apply. In addition, the problem is that Congress hasn’t passed (and the president hasn’t signed) the annual appropriations bills; it’s certainly possible for Congress to quickly pass one or more full-year bills, which would fund portions of the government and keep them out of a shutdown.
And, as always, anyone analyzing how this plays out should remember that at the end of the day, before or after or even way after the deadlines, Congress will pass and the president will sign government funding and debt-limit increase bills. These really are must-pass, and they will pass.