The United States faces a world of uncertainty and a possible default on its debts within days if Congress does not increase the country's $16.7 trillion borrowing limit by Thursday.
If debt payments are missed, financial analysts say it would cause widespread turmoil on international financial markets because investors' faith in the safety of U.S. securities would be broken.
Some congressional critics of government spending, mostly Republican opponents of President Barack Obama, say the government should set priorities on which payments to make first. But financial analyst Steve Bell of the Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Center says the government does not want to have make such decisions on who gets paid first.
Bell says that would be all but technologically impossible to set such priorities because of the way the U.S. government pays more than three million bills a day.
At some point, he says the government would run out of cash, and then most likely would delay, day by day, paying bills until it had enough cash on hand to make payments it should have made days earlier. When that happens, he says, "It would be a default."
U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew says come Thursday the government will only have about $30 billion on hand and some revenue coming in from various sources. He says after that, as interest bills come due on government securities and large pension and health care payments are owed to older Americans on November 1, the government could quickly run out of cash.
Washington leaders are continuing discussions in an effort to end the federal government's two-week-old partial shutdown and an increase the debt cap so it can continue to borrow enough money to pay its bills, which includes interest on securities owed to China, Japan and other overseas investors.