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Idea of the Day: What to Expect if the United States Defaults

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The effects of a U.S. government debt default will largely depend on how soon the House of Representatives ends its fiscal brinksmanship. As the 2011 debt-ceiling standoff showed, the effects of a potential default will not wait until the Treasury deadline of October 17, and the 2008 financial crisis proved it is extremely difficult to predict what will break in the financial system until it has broken.

With that in mind, this issue brief examines two basic scenarios of a U.S. default: one in which the debt ceiling results in a default for only a short time—say, less than one business day—and one in which the United States is unable to borrow for a longer period.

In either case, a failure to lift the debt ceiling in a timely manner will result in:

  • Significantly increased interest costs on the national debt
  • Long-term negative impacts for the U.S. economy
  • Real, tangible, and costly consequences for everyday Americans
  • Severe, unpredictable consequences for the U.S. and the world financial system
  • Macroeconomic consequences that increase with each day the debt ceiling restrains activity
  • An immense amount of unpredictable downside risk to the U.S. economy

For more on this topic, please see:

To speak with our experts on this topic, please contact:

Print: Liz Bartolomeo (poverty, health care)
202.481.8151 or

Print: Tom Caiazza (foreign policy, energy and environment, LGBT issues, gun-violence prevention)
202.481.7141 or

Print: Allison Preiss (economy, education)
202.478.6331 or

Print: Tanya Arditi (immigration, Progress 2050, race issues, demographics, criminal justice, Legal Progress)
202.741.6258 or

Print: Chelsea Kiene (women's issues,, faith)
202.478.5328 or

Print: Elise Shulman (oceans)
202.796.9705 or

Print: Benton Strong (Center for American Progress Action Fund)
202.481.8142 or

Spanish-language and ethnic media: Jennifer Molina
202.796.9706 or

TV: Rachel Rosen
202.483.2675 or

Radio: Chelsea Kiene
202.478.5328 or


This is part of a regular column: Idea of the Day

For more from the same column, click here