With no deal yet on raising the federal debt limit and just 19 days before the Aug. 2 deadline, construction industry officials, like others in business, are nervously awaiting the next move.

I checked in with two leading construction economists--Associated Builders and Contractors' Anirban Basu and
the Associated General Contractors' Ken Simonson-- to get their read about the impact on construction if the White House and congressional leaders fail to reach a debt ceiling agreement.

The second key question I posed: If there is a debt limit deal that involves spending cuts, what would that mean for construction?

The consequences of no deal would be dire for the industry, Basu and Simonson say, with interest rates likely to jump nearly across the board and a new crunch on credit.

If there is an agreement accompanied by spending cuts, that also would deal a heavy blow to infrastructure funding, and construction firms that rely on federal  public-works contracts.

Basu, ABC's chief economist, says, "The construction industry stands to lose more than any other industry if a debt ceiling agreement is not reached by August 2nd."

He adds, "The most likely impact of failing to reach resolution would be spiking interest rates and the effect of default would be long-lived."

Simonson, AGC's chief economist, says the consequences of failing to raise the debt limit "are potentially far-ranging, disastrous and unforeseeable" for construction.

He says rates could "shoot up" for nearly all U.S. borrowers and "credit availability would shrink drastically"--with the crunch worse than in late 2008.

If there is a deal that includes spending reductions, "There's no avoiding further cuts for federally funded construction," Simonson says. "The question is really how do we best make sure that the economy continues to grow so that construction overall will come back."

Basu says if a spending cut package is shaped in a way that the bond market likes, "that would create conditions for the private sector-led recovery that the industry needs to offset the anticipated declines in federal [infrastructure] investment."

[UPDATE p.m. 7/15: I saw a Twitter posting this afternoon from the Portland Cement Association, noting PCA Chief Economist Ed Sullivan on July 7 issued an analysis of the impact of a failure to raise the debt  limit. Like Basu and Simonson, Sullivan says the impact would be severe, including likely spending cuts in government construction programs. He estimates there would be a resulting 5.6% decline in cement consumption in 2011 and a further 7.5% falloff in 2012. See PCA press release.]

[UPDATE p.m. 7/15: In a press conference today, President Obama said, "I am still pushing for us achieve a big deal" on cutting the deficit. But he added that if that isn't possible, "let's still try to at least get a down payment on deficit reduction."

He also again made a pitch for legislation to create a federal infrastructure bank.

On Capitol Hill, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner met with Senate Democrats on July 14 and made clear that Aug. 2 remains the deadline day, according to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

After the Senate meeting, Geithner told reporters, "We've looked at all available options and we have no way to give Congress more time to solve this problem." He added, "And we're running out of time."

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said at a press conference the same day that the GOP doesn't want to reach the point where the ceiling wouldn't be raised.

"No one wants to see the federal government walk away from our obligations," he said. "But at the same time, we've got to do something about the underlying problem, and that is spending--spending that is out of control."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has offered a plan to let President Obama raise the limit in stages and Boehner said that option is "worth keeping on the table."

Boehner said, "What may look like something less than optimal today if we're unable to get to an agreement might look pretty good a couple of weeks from now."

Because of concerns about the debt-limit situation, Standard & Poor's on July 14 put U.S. debt on its CreditWatch "with negative implications." (S&P and ENR are units of The McGraw-Hill Companies.)

Moody's Investors Service on July 13 put the U.S. bond rating "on review for possible downgrade," citing "the rising possibility the debt ceiling would not