House Democrats turn up pressure for clean debt limit hike

With time running out, Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday turned up the pressure on House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to allow a clean vote on raising the nation's debt limit.

   Treasury Secretary Jack Lew met with House Democrats on Tuesday morning at their weekly caucus meeting and delivered an all too familiar message from the White House: President Obama will not negotiate with Congress over raising the debt ceiling, which enables the U.S. to simply pay its bills.

Lew has already informed Congress that the U.S. will likely reach the limit Feb. 7, in just 10 days.

There is usually some flexibility with the debt limit, as the Treasury can use "extraordinary measures" by redirecting funds to pay the bills for a short period of time - in this case, a few weeks. Lew said last week that the Treasury would likely exhaust the "extraordinary measures" by late February or early March.

Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Lew was "very explicit" about the importance of the approaching Feb. 7 deadline.

Republicans in Congress should not "play with fire when it comes to the markets interest rates and the livelihood of Americans who are working and paying their bills," Becerra said.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., slammed Boehner for refusing to hold a vote in on a clean debt ceiling increase. Boehner and his fellow Republicans want to use the opportunity to address the nation's hemorrhaging debt, a position Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, reiterated Sunday on "Face The Nation."

"Mr. Boehner knows putting the debt limit at risk is bad policy," Hoyer said, adding that the 200 members of the Democratic caucus are ready and willing to raise the debt limit today. Boehner is unwilling to do the right thing because he would lose "confidence" among conservatives, Hoyer said.

Boehner weighed in on the negotiations - or lack thereof - after a party meeting.

"It's become obvious to me after having tried to work with the president for the last three years that he will not try to deal with our long-term spending problems unless Republicans agree to raise taxes, and we are not going to raise taxes," Boehner said. "The options available continue to be narrower in terms of how we address the issue of the debt ceiling, but I'm confident that we'll be able to find a way."

House Republicans have indicated they will draw up a strategy to deal with the debt limit at their annual retreat later this week. 

Congress temporarily suspended the debt limit in October as part of the deal to end the government shutdown. A previous debt showdown in 2011 led a top credit rating agency to downgrade U.S. bonds.

  • Marshall Cohen

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