The Washington Post

Jack Lew: Congress ‘playing with fire’ on debt ceiling

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew warned Sunday of dire consequences if lawmakers don't raise the debt ceiling later this month.

"If the United States government, for the first time in its history, chooses not to pay its bills on time, we will be in default," Lew said on CNN's "State of the Union." "There is no option that prevents us from being in default if we don't have enough cash to pay our bills."

The government will reach its borrowing authority limit on Oct. 17, according to the Treasury. President Obama has called for lawmakers to increase the limit with no strings attached, but Republicans have called for Obama to debate the matter with them.

"I'm telling you that on the 17th, we run out of our ability to borrow, and Congress is playing with fire," Lew said.

Some Republicans have said that the risks of hitting the debt ceiling are overstated. Calling it "reckless" and "dangerous" for the United States to be encroaching on an unprecedented point (the country has never defaulted before) Lew pushed back against critics who have said the administration is over-hyping the consequences.

"Anyone who thinks that the United States government not paying its bills is anything less than default hasn't thought about it very clearly," he said.

Also appearing on "State of The Union," Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), one of the most conservative members of Congress, said Republicans should look for three things in a debt ceiling deal, including a way to go after Obama's health-care law.

"We should look for some significant structural plan to reduce government spending. Number two, we should avoid new taxes. And number three we should look for ways to mitigate the harms from Obamacare," Cruz said.

Lew is appearing on five four Sunday news shows. On NBC's "Meet The Press," Lew echoed Obama's call for Congress to end the current government shutdown by passing a clean short-term stopgap spending bill.

"There is a majority in Congress right now that would vote to re-open the government," said Lew.

He said there are "no winners" in the government shutdown standoff.

Updated at 10:37 a.m.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.

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