U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said Tuesday that he hopes Republicans will eventually ease their opposition to raising the debt ceiling as catastrophic economic consequences could ensue from default.
His remarks come as lawmakers are also trying to come up with an agreement to fund the government.
A shutdown will occur at 11:59:59 p.m. EST. on Thursday night absent an agreement on a stopgap measure. The deadline to stop the government from defaulting on its debt obligations, which has never happened before, is Oct. 18.
Monday saw Senate Republicans successfully filibuster a motion to proceed to debate on a Democratic bill that would have both funded the government through Dec. 3 and suspended the debt limit for that duration. Sixty votes were needed to break the filibuster. Democrats have 51 votes with Vice President Kamala Harris’ constitutional authority to cast a tie-breaking vote.
Tuesday saw Senate Republicans block an effort by Democrats to raise the debt ceiling with a simple majority vote instead of the filibuster-proof threshold.
Republicans have argued that raising the debt ceiling while at the same time considering the Biden administration’s ambitious expansion of social safety net programs is outright fiscally irresponsible.
“The closer we get to that [date] the more uncertainty we will see in the economy,” Van Hollen said in response to a question from MarylandReporter.com at a virtual news conference. “We will begin to see it shaking. We will begin to see harmful consequences. The American people are going to watch this fuse burn and we are going to keep asking our Republican colleagues: ‘When are you willing to put out that flame so that it does not denote the economic equivalent of a nuclear weapon.'”
Van Hollen added: “We are going to keep pushing. We are going to keep giving them (Republicans) a chance to vote. They will have multiple chances to vote or get out of the way and let us vote to prevent that kind of economic havoc.”
Former Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary Dr. Joshua Sharfstein joined Van Hollen at Tuesday’s news conference.
Sharfstein said government shutdowns are bad enough in ordinary times but that during a pandemic they can cause real damage, especially to the nation’s health care infrastructure.
Sharfstein noted that although essential services remain in operation during a shutdown, critical government research would come to a grinding halt as the CDC would have to furlough 50% of its staff and NIH would to have to furlough 70% of its staff. Sharfstein also pointed out that food inspections at the FDA might also cease during a shutdown.
Sharfstein implored lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to come together for the sake of the country.
“I don’t think this is a moment to be playing around with funding for the health care system that we all depend on. I just hope that people can see our commonality and the common threats that we face at this moment.”
Sharfstein said a shutdown would disproportionately hurt many of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens, such as those who depend on mental health services and Medicaid and Medicare.