Think that title sounds familiar? It is. We've been here before. And, as before, the "debt ceiling" is a gold mine for some politicians, journalists and analysts. A possible government shutdown, or reaching a "hard" debt ceiling, are both fun for pessimists to talk about.
It seems to happen every couple of years and, as we've always said in the past, any dire warnings you're hearing are completely overblown.
Just to make it clear up front, it's important to recognize that a government shutdown and a debt default are not the same. Although it's theoretically possible for both to happen at the same time, they really are different kinds of events.
A government shutdown happens when a president and Congress fail to agree on a budget, or a "continuing resolution" – which funds government agencies until a budget is passed.
But much of government is on autopilot. Even with no budget, taxes still get paid (unfortunately) and debt payments still get made. The military still operates, as does Border Control and air traffic control. "Essential" government workers still go to work and get paid. Checks still get churned out for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps, and other entitlements. And "non-essential" government workers usually get paid back for the time they didn't come to work. In other words, a government shutdown is not catastrophic.
Hitting a hard debt ceiling and missing payments to bond holders is a more serious issue. But, it's highly unlikely to happen and we're confident the Treasury Department would find a way to prioritize payments.