Agreement between Congress and the President on a real FY 2011 appropriation seems unlikely at this point. Republicans in the House of Representatives are insisting on rolling back appropriations to FY 2008 levels. This would be disastrous for most agencies. It would be catastrophic for Social Security. There would be mass layoffs of Social Security employees. The agency could not function. The Republican base and Fox News are insisting upon confrontation with Democrats over appropriations yet it seems clear that any government shutdown would be extremely unpopular with the public.
I can only speculate that we will continue to see CRs for the rest of FY 2011 but a government shutdown is not out of the question. Agreement between Republicans and Democrats is possible but hard for me to envision.
At the moment, this situation has caused Social Security to discontinue virtually all hiring. I think the agency has discontinued most if not all overtime. This will hurt more and more as time goes on.
Congress has set a ceiling on the gross amount of federal debt. Because the federal government is running a large deficit, it needs to keep borrowing money. We will reach the debt ceiling sometime around the end of March or early April. If the debt ceiling is not raised, much of the federal government must shut down. It is not at all clear how this would affect Social Security. We have never gone there before. Undoubtedly, there are contingency plans but it would be best if these plans just gather dust.
Raising the debt ceiling requires a majority vote in the Republican controlled House of Representatives. Many Republicans have pledged to vote against an increase in the debt ceiling unless they obtain something dramatic such as huge reductions in appropriations and Social Security benefits. Some have pledged to vote against an increase in the debt ceiling no matter what is offered. Again, the Republican base and Fox News are demanding confrontation but a failure to raise the debt ceiling could have terrible long term consequences since it would shut down much of the federal government and bring into question the nation's creditworthiness.
At best, I think we are going to the brink on the debt ceiling. The chances of going over the precipice are very real.