Many assume that the administration would prioritize which payments go out in order to minimize the political and economic disruptions. After paying interest on the debt, Social Security checks are widely assumed to be high on the list of priorities. Medicare payments are candidates for holding back because many experts believe a delay in payments would not jeopardize access as long as the crisis did not drag out too long and they were paid after the crisis ended.
But the president may not have such discretion, warns Jay Powell of the Bipartisan Policy Center.
“Everyone is assuming that if there’s no debt ceiling increase, the administration would make choices about what gets paid and what doesn’t,” Powell said. “The administration might find it lacks clear authority to make those decisions” because law requires the executive branch “to treat all congressional spending as equally binding.”