In less than two weeks, the Obama administration says the federal government will run out of money to pay its bills unless Congress raises the nation’s $14.3 trillion borrowing limit. Congress is now in a contentious debate with the White House on whether to raise the debt ceiling. Liberal Democrats oppose deep spending cuts, while conservative Republicans refuse to raise taxes, putting the nation at an impasse. If Congress does not raise the limit, the government will likely be forced to default on its debt, which has never happened in U.S. history. The results, most say, would create economic catastrophe.

Since 1980, the debt ceiling has been raised 39 times. With the deadline looming, Brown University political scientist Wendy Schiller explains what makes this time so different.