The U.S. Congress faces critical fiscal deadlines at a time of upheaval and uncertainty on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers are returning from a weeklong recess still wondering who will lead the House of Representatives.
It has been nearly a month since House Speaker John Boehner announced his departure effective at the end of this month.
No successor has been identified, much less chosen. Congressman Paul Ryan, the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee, gives no sign of acquiescing to intense pressure from party elders to seek the post. A leadership vacuum could force Boehner to postpone his retirement and lead a fractured Republican caucus as momentous deadlines loom.
Last week, the Treasury Department informed Boehner the U.S. government risks running out of funds by November 3 unless the federal borrowing limit is increased.
“It would put the United States at real risk for the very first time in our history of not being able to pay our bills,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest Thursday.
Many Republicans, especially ultra-conservative hardliners, have long refused to vote to raise the debt ceiling unless the measure is accompanied by spending cuts to slow the pace at which America runs up the national debt.
"You know, to be honest, what I'd like to see on the debt limit is Republican leaders fight for something, for Pete's sake. Anything,” said Republican Senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz on NBC’s Meet the Press program Sunday.
“We have a $19 trillion debt. The reason that is a problem is we only have an $18 trillion economy,” said another presidential aspirant, Republican Senator Marco Rubio at a recent campaign event.
President Barack Obama has ruled out negotiations over the borrowing limit, arguing it's Congress’ duty to avoid a catastrophic U.S. debt default.
“Increasing the debt limit does not authorize any new spending. It simply allows the Treasury to pay for expenditures that Congress themselves already have approved,” said Earnest.
In addition to the debt ceiling deadline, Congress has until December 11 to extend the U.S. government’s spending authority or risk another partial federal shutdown. Discussions between the White House and congressional leaders are reportedly progressing on a longer term spending deal, but until a new House speaker is chosen, it is not clear who would see a deal to fruition or bring it up for a vote.