The White House is refusing to negotiate over raising the debt limit after the "mistake" of doing so in 2011, according to Treasury Secretary Jack LewJack LewOne year later, the Iran nuclear deal is a success by any measure Chinese President Xi says a trade war hurts the US and China Overnight Finance: Price puts stock trading law in spotlight | Lingering questions on Trump biz plan | Sanders, Education pick tangle over college costs MORE.
While Congress had previously used the debt limit to make arguments about fiscal policy, Lew argued on "Fox News Sunday" that the 2011 battle represented a dramatic change that cannot be repeated.
President Obama said in 2011 he wanted a "clean" debt limit increase without added policy proposals, but ultimately the debate was dragged into a broad fiscal fight that went down to the wire, resulting in the first-ever downgrade of the nation's credit rating.
"It was a mistake in 2011 to have that debate, it hurt the economy," Lew said on Sunday. "2011 was the first time there was a debate about whether or not to default, where there was one side actually arguing default could be managed, that's just wrong."
But Lew, echoing a prior White House stance, said the debt limit should not be tied to a bigger fiscal fight, that default is too serious a consequence to risk.
"It was not an option, it cannot be an option, and they know that," he said.
Lew also argued that Washington should remove some focus on cutting the deficit and return to considering increased spending on some priorities.
"We've reduced the deficit significantly," he said. "We actually accomplished roughly the amount of deficit reduction we all wanted to accomplish a few years ago.
"There is, I think, a consensus in the world community that we need to focus on growth, that you cannot just cut your way to growth," he added.