The White House on Tuesday assured Democrats that President Obama will not negotiate with the GOP over a debt-ceiling hike.
"The secretary articulated once again [that] we don't negotiate the livelihood of American families to extract concessions that have nothing to do with moving the economy forward," House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) said after the meeting.
"We think that we can get this done," Becerra added, "but it's good to know that we hopefully will not have this game of Russian roulette that at least the president and Democrats won't engage in."
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he was heartened by Lew's remarks.
"We're not going to deal on it," Hoyer said bluntly.
With the government's borrowing authority estimated to expire before March, GOP leaders are grappling with how to raise the debt limit and prevent a possible default.
On one hand, they face pressure from conservatives to use the must-pass legislation to exact GOP policy priorities from the Democrats — amendments Obama says he won't entertain. On the other, they don't want to risk the economic turmoil — or the political blame — if Congress runs too close to the deadline and financial markets tank.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday that Republicans will use their annual policy retreat, which starts Wednesday in Cambridge, Md., to decide their strategy.
"I don't think we — Republicans — want to default on our debt," he said.
But last week, Boehner's office warned that no debt-ceiling bill could pass through the House without Republican amendments.
"The Speaker has said that we should not default on our debt, or even get close to it, but a 'clean' debt limit increase simply won’t pass in the House," said spokesman Michael Steel.
Hoyer on Tuesday predicted Democrats could deliver roughly 200 votes for a clean debt-limit bill, meaning GOP leaders would have to come up with less than 20 Republicans to send the measure to the Senate. He argued that the conservatives calling for wish-list attachments are ignoring the fact that a clean debt-ceiling hike, by preventing a default, benefits everyone.
"Let me tell you what everybody gets, including everybody around this table: A fiscally responsible and stable nation that is perceived globally as a responsible actor," he said.
Democratic leaders said they are wondering why Republicans would champion spending bills, including the recent omnibus, and then threaten to oppose a debt-ceiling hike, which would deny the funding for those same bills.
"It's ironic that people who would vote for spending the money are not voting to pay for it," Hoyer said.
"Mr. Boehner knows that putting the debt limit at risk is a bad policy, period," Hoyer added. "Whether Mr. Boehner feels he can move forward assuring that the debt limit is extended without a lot of confidence-destroying political back-and-forth is another question."