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Lew to Congress: Raise the debt ceiling “well before” deadline

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is urging House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and the other congressional leaders to channel the bipartisan bonhomie of the recent budget deal into raising the nation’s debt ceiling “well before” the U.S. runs out of borrowing authority on Feb. 7.


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“Congress again has demonstrated its ability to work constructively to address the country's most pressing fiscal issues,” Lew wrote in a letter Thursday, referencing the recent votes by the House and Senate to pass a budget for the next two years. “In this spirit, I am writing to urge Congress to take prompt action to protect the full faith and credit of the United States by extending the nation's borrowing authority. It is incumbent on Congress to allow Treasury to finance the spending levels established in the budget agreement as well as the commitments previously approved by Congress.”

Congress extended the debt limit through Feb. 7 when they passed a deal to end the 16-day government shutdown in October. Lew said that he would be able to use so-called “extraordinary measures” to continue to finance the government past that date, but only until late February or early March.

Since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2010, Republicans have routinely used the need to raise the debt ceiling to extract spending cuts from Democrats. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said recently that President Obama will stand by his position that the debt ceiling increase should not be conditioned on other policies, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has other ideas.

"I doubt if the House or for that matter the Senate is willing to give the president a clean debt ceiling increase," McConnell said Tuesday.

Lew reiterated Mr. Obama’s position in the letter. “The creditworthiness of the United States is an essential underpinning of our strength as a nation; it is not a bargaining chip to be used for partisan political ends. Moreover, as you know, increasing the debt limit does not authorize new spending commitments. It simply allows the government to pay for expenditures Congress has already approved,” he wrote. “The American public expects its leaders to put an end to governing by crisis and to focus on promoting economic growth and job creation.”

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