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Lew Warns Congress Must Act on Debt Limit in February (Updated)

(Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 4:47 p.m. | Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew is renewing calls for Congress to act to raise the debt limit in February.

Lew explained that the extraordinary measures are likely to run out sooner rather than later, and that there is less flexibility in February than at some other points in the year. The Treasury Department now expects the debt limit endgame to arrive in late February, rather than in March.

“While this forecast is subject to inherent variability, we do not foresee any reasonable scenario in which the extraordinary measures would last for an extended period of time,” Lew wrote in a letter to congressional leaders.

“The significantly smaller amount of headroom that can be freed up now will quickly be exhausted by the large obligations of the government that occur in the month of February. Protecting the full faith and credit of the United States is the responsibility of Congress, because only Congress can extend the nation’s borrowing authority. No Congress in our history has failed to meet that responsibility,” Lew wrote. “I respectfully urge Congress to provide certainty and stability to the economy and financial markets by acting to raise the debt limit before February 7, 2014, and certainly before late February.”

Response on Capitol Hill to Lew’s latest warning was swift and predictable, with Democrats pushing for a “clean” increase in borrowing authority and Republicans calling for including other provisions related to the debt and deficit into any deal.

Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., called for an increase with no strings attached.

“With the bipartisan agreements on the budget and on funding the government for this year, we have an opportunity to move past the manufactured crises and work together on real challenges. I hope Republicans will listen to Secretary Lew and join Democrats to ensure the U.S. pays its bills on time with no strings attached,” Murray said in a statement.

Michael Steel, spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, dismissed that suggestion in his own statement.

“The Speaker has said that we should not default on our debt, or even get close to it, but a ‘clean’ debt limit increase simply won’t pass in the House,” Steel said. “We hope and expect the White House will work with us on a timely, fiscally-responsible solution.”

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid indicated the nation wasn’t likely to hit the debt ceiling until May, but it seems the Nevada Democrat was not relying on official information from the White House or the Treasury in making that statement at a news conference.

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