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The United States is facing a federal shutdown at the end of September--also the end of its fiscal year--should Congress find itself unable to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling. 

On Monday, September 20, 2021, U.S. Sen. Chris Coons addressed the looming issue during a visit to Wilmington. 

"The path forward is for us to authorize an increase in the debt ceiling to pay for the increased spending that has already occurred. What is widely misunderstood is what this vote is about. It's about paying for the debt that we incurred over the last five years," Coons said. "The United States Congress and the previous president came together and advocated for--and ultimately put into place--literally trillions of dollars of badly needed emergency spending, mostly to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. We should pay our bills. That's what sophisticated economies and advanced countries do."

A temporary spending bill that the U.S. House could vote on as soon as Tuesday would fund the government through December 3. It includes $28.6 billion to address relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Ida, $6.3 billion in support for Afghan evacuees, and extends government borrowing authority through the end of 2022. 

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is facing off against those efforts, saying he won't pay off debts when he believes President Joe Biden will pile on more. 

“Since Democrats decided to go it alone, they will not get Senate Republicans’ help with raising the debt limit. I’ve explained this clearly and consistently for over two months,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Monday.

But Coons countered that argument, saying the position isn't based in fact. 

"Some of the arguments that are being made in Congress, that this debt ceiling raise is about making it possible for President Biden to do future spending, is actually not accurate," the senator said. "That's not what a debt ceiling raise does. It allows us to pay the debts that have already been incurred by the United States--in this particular case, in dealing with a pandemic. We should come together as we have for years, and increase the debt ceiling."

If Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling, the United States could face significant financial challenges in the wake of a shutdown, Coons said. The Treasury Department has already warned that a shortage in cash on hand could soon force it to delay or miss payments. 

“Doing so would likely precipitate a historic financial crisis,” wrote Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in The Wall Street Journal.

That outcome is avoidable and unnecessary, Coons said. 

"It is a complex fiscal issue that most senators understand. We know that if we default on it, the consequences will be prompt, sharp and potentially catastrophic for our financial system," said Coons. "We should do this on a strong bipartisan basis, as Democrats did under the previous administration."

Despite McConnel's protestations, he was the Senate leader when Democrats voted to increase the debt ceiling under the previous administration. The current presentation would take 10 Republican votes to surpass the 60 votes needed to advance the bill. 

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Reporting from the Associated Press was used in this story.