Lew: 2011 debt-limit talks a ‘mistake’

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 LewObama administration officials ramp up push for Pacific pact Overnight Finance: Lawmakers float criminal charges for Wells Fargo chief | Scrutiny on Trump's Cuba dealings | Ryan warns of recession if no tax reform GOP senators press Treasury to withdraw estate tax proposal 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."

The debt limit will need to be raised this fall, and Speaker John BoehnerJohn Boehner3 ways the next president can succeed on immigration reform Republican Study Committee elders back Harris for chairman Dems to GOP: Help us fix ObamaCare MORE (R-Ohio) has indicated, as he did in previous fights, that he will not support a debt limit increase that does not include at least an equal amount of spending cuts.

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.