"There would have to be severe cutbacks, but it is unlikely that large parts of the government would be shut down completely," said former Congressional Budget Office Director Rudolph Penner.
What's all the noise about the 14th Amendment? If Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling, some believe the president could choose a "nuclear option" and invoke the 14th Amendment.
That amendment states: "The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law ... shall not be questioned."
By invoking the 14th Amendment, the argument goes, Obama could direct the Treasury secretary to keep borrowing in order to pay the country's obligations.
The White House has rejected the suggestion several times. But minds may change, experts say, if the country is really on the brink of default.
It would, however, be risky politically.
And the country could still be hurt financially. Invoking the 14th Amendment could spark a constitutional showdown -- not exactly an affirming message to send markets already questioning Washington's ability to govern.
What about a $1 trillion platinum coin? Another instant-presto fix that some experts believe could be used to avert default is the creation of a $1 trillion platinum coin. Then again other experts think the idea is legally questionable and in any case not a bright move.
The idea goes like this: Treasury is not allowed to print money. But because of a legal loophole it is allowed to mint platinum coins. If it opts to mint a $1 trillion coin, it could deposit it at the Federal Reserve and thereby keep paying the country's bills even though the debt ceiling hasn't been raised yet.
"Minting a $1 trillion coin sounds like the plot of a Simpsons episode or an Austin Powers sequel. It lacks dignity," writes Donald Marron, a former Congressional Budget Office director, in an opinion piece.
Treasury beat back expectations and rejected the idea in a statement on Jan. 12. "Neither the Treasury Department nor the Federal Reserve believes that the law can or should be used to facilitate the production of platinum coins for the purpose of avoiding an increase in the debt limit," Treasury said.