Treasury Secretary Jack Lews (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images) Treasury Secretary Jack Lew (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

A week ago today, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew informed House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) that the United States would no longer have the ability to pay its bills as of Oct. 17. Last night, Lew sent another dire missive. “I am writing to inform Congress that as of today Treasury has begun using the final extraordinary measures,” he wrote. “There are no other legal and prudent options to extend the nation’s borrowing authority.”

The final extraordinary measures are two technical maneuvers that will allow Treasury to stay below the legal borrowing limit of $16.7 trillion. But Lew’s letter also makes it clear that these actions were already factored in to determine the default deadline of Oct. 17.

Folks, if the debt ceiling isn’t raised in 15 days, Treasury estimates that it could have just $30 billion cash on hand to pay the nation’s bills. On some days, Lew notes, those bills could be as high as $60 billion. As charts from the Bipartisan Policy Center’s latest debt limit analysis make clear, we are in for a world of hurt if the federal government is forced to decide who gets paid and who doesn’t. It is a political and legal nightmare the nation need not endure.

(Bipartisan Policy Center)

(Bipartisan Policy Center)

This cannot be repeated often enough: Raising the debt ceiling would not result in new spending. Doing so would not be the equivalent of giving President Obama a blank check. Increasing the legal borrowing limit of the United States would allow the Treasury to pay for things already bought by Congress.

The debt ceiling must be raised. Period. To do otherwise would obliterate the full faith and credit of the United States. Failure to increase the borrowing limit would lead to a global economic shutdown that would make the current government shutdown look trivial. That there are folks on Capitol Hill who sniff at this fear and are willing to let it happen is most frightening of all.

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