The focus in Congress this week is a temporary spending bill to defund a new health care law and a potentially looming government shutdown.
U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D) warned the Montgomery County Council on Monday that even more fiscal problems could be on the horizon.
Even if a budget deal passes by this coming Monday’s deadline, Congress and the White House face a coming battle over whether to raise the ceiling on the country’s debt, Cardin said during an informal lunch and discussion.
If no agreement is reached and the country defaults on its debt, Cardin said the U.S. economy could suffer permanent damage by sometime in October.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said Wednesday that the country would run out of emergency borrowing power by Oct. 17, according to The Washington Post.
“There is no flexibility here,” Cardin said.
Much of the talk Monday involved the budget showdown percolating in Congress, after the House of Representatives passed a spending bill that did not include money for the health care system known as “Obamacare.”
If no agreement is reached by Monday, many federal agencies and institutions would be shut down beginning Tuesday until an agreement is reached.
The sides could pass a continuing resolution, a short-term measure that would allow for spending at current levels until a new agreement can be hammered out.
Cardin blamed the showdown on about 50 Republican “extremists” in the House of Representatives who refuse to negotiate the differences between individual budgets passed by the House and Senate.
Several Senate Republicans he’s talked to think the idea of pursuing a strategy to shut the government down is crazy, he said.
Cardin said that while continuing resolutions aren’t ideal, “it’s better than the alternative” of a government shutdown.
He flatly said the Senate would not approve a spending bill that didn’t include funding for Obamacare.
“We’re not going to turn back the clock on all of this,” he said.
Cardin and the council also discussed pressures created by the federal government’s budget sequestration.
Cardin said the good news is the country’s economy is slowly recovering.
“All the numbers are pointing in the right direction,” he said.
Montgomery County is home to federal facilities that use subcontractors who are laying off workers or are reluctant to hire until the budget situation become more clear, said Council Vice President Craig Rice (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown.
Cardin said he’s worried the budget issues would cause bright, young researchers at employers such as the National Institutes of Health to move to other areas or other fields.
Councilman Phil Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg called the picture painted by Cardin “truly depressing.”
Cardin said he’s talked to many businesses concerned about the uncertainty caused by sequestration. He said he, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D) and Congressmen Christopher Van Hollen Jr. (D-Dist. 8) and John Delaney (D-Dist. 6) are committed to ending automatic budget cuts as soon as possible.
“We are never going to accept sequestration as the new norm,” Cardin said.