Lew asks Congress for debt increase, says it’s 'not open to debate'

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew on Friday urged congressional leaders to raise the debt limit and insisted that the White House is not going to negotiate over the increase because lawmakers have "no choice."

"We will not negotiate over the debt limit," Lew wrote. "The creditworthiness of the United States is non-negotiable. The question of whether the country must pay obligations it has already incurred is not open to debate."

Lew said that while President Obama is willing to discuss plans to reduce the nation's deficit with Congress, those talks must be kept separate from any effort to raise the nation's debt cap.

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The letter comes as the debt limit is set to take effect on Sunday, after being suspended for three months by Congress. The last time the nation approached its $16.4 trillion borrowing limit, lawmakers agreed to suspend the borrowing cap, and then to automatically raise it to cover borrowing subject to the limit that occurred during that three-month stretch.

The end result is that come Sunday, the Treasury will find itself immediately up against its expanded cap, and will need to begin employing "extraordinary measures" to free up space beneath the limit to stay current on its obligations.

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Lew told lawmakers he was unsure exactly how long those measures would avoid a default, but said he was confident the government funding could last until after Labor Day.

"Nevertheless, Congress should act sooner rather than later to protect America's good credit and avoid the potentially catastrophic consequences of failing to act until it is too late," he wrote.


Lew was unable to pin down a more precise timeline for the debt limit due to a range of unpredictable factors, including the flow of tax receipts, changes in government spending due to the sequester, as well as the influx of funds from housing giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

With its finances improving as the housing market rebounds, Fannie told the Treasury earlier this month it would be making a roughly $60 billion payment in June to the government. The Treasury recoups all of the profits made by those agencies ever since they were bailed out by the government in 2008.

Lew also reiterated the administration's opposition to a plan put forward by House Republicans that they maintain would allow the government to prioritize key payments if the limit were reached. The White House has threatened to veto the measure passed by the House, and Lew called the bill "unwise, unworkable, [and] unacceptably risky."