Lew: Debt limit fight can last to Labor Day

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At the same time, Lew exhorted Congress to act quickly to raise the limit, and not put it off until the last minute.

"People shouldn't relax. Congress should deal with this right away," he said. "The fact that they have more time should not put off dealing with this. The uncertainty that's created by putting this off is not good."

The nation's $16.4 trillion borrowing limit is currently suspended as part of a debt deal struck earlier in the year. That suspension will expire on May 18, at which point the nation's borrowing cap will be automatically raised to cover borrowing done during the three-month long suspension. At that point, assuming Congress does not strike a deal to raise the limit beforehand, the Treasury will begin employing "extraordinary measures" to free up room under the cap and stay current on its bills. Outside analysis suggests the government may be able to stay current on its obligations into October.