Jack Lew

J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

Treasury's Lew sets up battle over debt limit

  • Article by: Jim Puzzanghera
  • Los Angeles Times
  • August 27, 2013 - 8:13 PM

President Obama will not bargain with lawmakers about attaching conditions to an increase in the debt limit, saying Congress has the responsibility to ensure that the nation’s bills are paid and that the government doesn’t default, Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said Tuesday. “The president’s been very clear we are not going to be negotiating over the debt limit,” Lew told CNBC a day after formally notifying Congress that the federal government would run out of borrowing authority in mid-October.

“Congress has already authorized funding, committed us to make expenditures,” he said. “We’re now in the place where the only question is ‘will we pay the bills that the United States has incurred.’ The only way to do that is for Congress to act, for it to act quickly.”

Lew said there’s broad agreement that the nation should avoid a repeat of the 2011 showdown over the debt limit, which led to the first-ever cut in the U.S. credit rating from Standard & Poor’s. But he acknowledged that there was no plan yet on how to avoid it as Congress prepares to return early next month from its summer recess.

Pressure on the issue was ratcheted up by the Treasury Department’s estimate of when the United States would face a potential default. The mid-October deadline puts the White House and Congress on a collision course on the debt limit around the same time they are facing the need to enact a new spending bill to keep the government running past Sept. 30. The nation technically hit its $16.7-trillion debt limit in May, but the Treasury has been juggling the government’s finances. Some estimates have indicated that the nation would not hit the debt limit until November, but Lew said Monday that the Treasury would exhaust all its extraordinary measures by about Oct. 15.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he planned to use the need to raise the debt ceiling to gain political leverage. He said, “It may be unfair, but what I’m trying to do here is to leverage the political process to produce more change than what it would produce if left to its own devices. We’re going to have a whale of a fight.”

But Lew was clear in repeating Obama’s opposition to negotiating conditions to a debt limit increase. “I think we saw in 2011 the danger of going down the path of having a kind of negotiation over the debt limit that you have over other issues,” Lew said. “The debt limit is different. It’s just different. There cannot be any question but that we are a country that pays our bills.”

The New York Times contributed to this report.

© 2018 Star Tribune