Debt ceiling deadline looms - where's Congress?

WASHINGTON - One of the things contributing to the Wall Street swoon is the prospect that the U.S. government will default on its debt as soon as August.

Congress must work out a complicated package of spending cuts and borrowing - so you might think there's no time to waste - but have a look at the sense of urgency found by CBS News Congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes.

When the ratings agency Moody's warned that failing to raise the debt ceiling could lead to a "possible downgrade," here is what House members promised: "We're perfectly willing to stay here day and night to get the job done," Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., said.

But this is what they actually did: leave town for a week - for the fourth time in eight weeks.

Now, even as the House floor stands empty, trading floors around the world are growing anxious.

Laurence Meyer, a former member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, says, "It's playing with fire because we know that the markets are going to get more and more concerned and there is going to be more turbulence, there is going to be more impact on equities and rates etc."

It's not that Congress doesn't understand the urgency - it's that Congress is conditioned into waiting until the 11th hour.

Back in April, Congressional leaders averted a government shutdown by mere minutes - but not before leaving tens of thousands of federal workers in the lurch.

The habitual procrastination is ironic since lawmakers constantly insist that the greatest threat to the economy is uncertainty.

Bipartisan negotiations over the debt ceiling resumed this week after a two week break while the leader of the talks, Vice President Biden, was traveling through Europe.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, says "Playing around with the debt ceiling and the danger of default on August 2nd is like playing Russian Roulette with a fully loaded revolver."

"So then why are you only meeting once every couple of weeks," Cordes asked.

"Well we're going to meet three times next week. That's the plan."

Republicans are pushing for two trillion in cuts in exchange for raising the debt limit. But since they won't agree to tax increases and democrats won't touch entitlements, the talks are slow going.

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    Nancy Cordes is CBS News' congressional correspondent.