Government Shutdown 2021: The Difference Between Dec. 3 Stopgap Bill Expiration and Dec. 15 Debt Ceiling Deadline

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If you’re confused about the federal government’s current struggles to get funding and avoid a shutdown, you’re not alone. Much of the confusion stems from a couple of different dates: Dec. 3, when the government is due to run out of money; and Dec. 15, when it is due to reach its debt ceiling.

See: Government Shutdown 2021 — What Is the Stopgap Bill and Which Factors Are Slowing Its Passage?
Find: Government Shutdown 2021 — These Services Will Be Inaccessible If Debt Ceiling Isn’t Raised by Dec. 15

One way to look at it is this: On Dec. 3, the government’s checking account balance will hit zero. On Dec. 15, its credit card will be maxed out. Okay, that’s an oversimplification — this is the U.S. government, after all, with its many complex and moving parts that nobody but the General Accounting Office seems to understand. But it’s still pretty close.

In any case, the U.S. House will need to pass a stopgap spending bill before midnight on Friday, Dec. 3, to avoid a partial government shutdown that could last over the weekend and into next week. As CNN reported, that deadline was established back in September, when both chambers of Congress, facing another potential shutdown, approved a bill to extend funding through Dec. 3. President Joe Biden signed the measure into law.

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But this week’s stopgap bill has been hung up by disagreements over how long a funding extension should last, as well as a demand by Senate conservatives to defund the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate.

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Some lawmakers have proposed a stopgap bill that will last until Dec. 17 as a way of pressuring Congress to negotiate on full fiscal-year spending bills, Bloomberg reported. Others support a longer extension that would run into February or March. An unnamed source told Bloomberg that the likeliest scenario is a measure running through mid-to-late January.

Meanwhile, the clock is also ticking on the debt ceiling. In recent comments to Congress, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned that the U.S. is at risk of failing to meet all of its debt obligations sometime after Dec. 15 unless the ceiling is raised.

See: Yellen — Not Raising Debt Ceiling Could ‘Eviscerate Our Current Recovery’ During Economic Update
Find: Government Shutdown 2021 — What Happens If the Debt Ceiling Isn’t Raised?

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As GOBankingRates reported, when the government reaches the debt ceiling, it can no longer borrow money to pay its bills, meaning it would have to cut spending elsewhere. This could take many forms, including suspending certain pension payments, withholding or reducing the pay of federal workers and military personnel or delaying interest payments.

In October, Congress approved a $480 billion increase to give Democrats more time to use the budget reconciliation process, Bloomberg noted. But Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who rallied Republican support the first time, said he wouldn’t do that again. If a debt limit increase is approved, it would likely last into December of 2022.

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.

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