Catastrophic. Brutal. Dangerous. Terrifying.
That's how lawmakers, the administration and market analysts have described theif Congress fails to raise the borrowing limit on the nation's $16.7 trillion debt by the Treasury Department's Oct. 17 deadline.
But not all members of Congress see it this way.
Variations of those terms had been used to describe the impact of sequester cuts and a government shutdown, both of which have already gone into effect this year, and some lawmakers say the administration may be exaggerating the consequences of a breached deadline.
But unlike the shutdown, a default would be unprecedented. And when members of Congress returned to the Capitol on Monday after nearly a week of partial government shutdown, the two sides seemed further apart on finding a resolution to what looms as a disaster double-header in mid-October.
House Speaker John Boehnerthat the country is headed down the default path unless President Obama and Democrats agree to curb spending that is driving up the debt. "The votes are not in the House to pass a 'clean' debt limit," he told ABC News, referring to an agreement that would require no Democratic concessions. "And the president is risking default by not having a conversation with us."
The problem for Boehner -- and, therefore, the president -- is that a number of GOP lawmakers don't believe the country will in fact default if the debt ceiling is not lifted; as a result, they insist they won't likely be spooked into raising it.
"We need to go back and redefine 'default,' " said Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican. "Default would be if you couldn't pay the interest and couldn't manage the principle on our national debt. And that's not going to happen. The resources are there. The cash flow is easily there to pay the interest on our debt."
He asserted also that the Oct. 17 deadline is "a very flexible date." King (pictured) is a well-known thorn in Boehner's side, and has drawn headlines for his controversial remarks. But the sentiments he's expressing this time are also shared by conservative lawmakers who have worked across the aisle in the past. "I would dispel the rumor that is going around that you hear on every newscast that if we don't raise the debt ceiling we will default on our debt," Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn told MSNBC on Monday. "We won't."
Technically, there is some truth to that. When determining the Oct. 17 deadline,said the government would have $30 billion in cash on that date, but it will not be able to issue new debt beyond that point.
"In theory, I think that's true, but logistically, practically and politically it would be a very complicated thing to pull off," says Nancy Vanden Houten, a senior analyst at Stone & McCarthy Research Associates (an investment information firm). "And that doesn't mean there won't be a market reaction."
Vanden Houten and other economists predict that money could last until the end of the month - but they place strong emphasis on "could."