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POLITICS: PennAve

Jack Lew: Debt ceiling must be raised before Feb. 7

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Treasury Secretary Jack Lew once again tried to provoke action on the debt ceiling Wednesday afternoon, warning congressional leaders by letter that he would run out of measures to create headroom under the limit by late February if it is not raised before then.

The October congressional deal to raise the debt ceiling and end the government shutdown suspended the debt ceiling through Feb. 7. At that point, Lew will rely on extraordinary measures to ensure all the government's obligations are met on time. Previously, he had said those measures would last through late February or early March.

"I respectfully urge Congress to provide certainty and stability to the economy and financial markets by acting to raise the debt limit before Feb. 7, 2014, and certainly before late February," Lew wrote in the letter addressed to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Lew also noted that the time between when the debt limit was reached and when he ran out of extraordinary measures would be shorter than in the past, because the Treasury experiences net outflows during February thanks to tax refunds.

In October, Congress waited until the day before the Treasury was set to run out of headroom under the debt ceiling before acting to suspend it. Lew and other Obama administration officials have repeatedly signaled that they will again refuse to negotiate with congressional Republicans over concessions for raising the limit.

The debt limit was suspended at $16.7 trillion. When it is reinstated on Feb. 8, it will stand at $17.3 trillion, according to estimates from the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Treasury statements indicate that the total debt outstanding subject to the limit was $17.2 trillion as of Tuesday, and that the Treasury had $85 billion in cash on hand.

Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, responded to Lew's letter by telling the Washington Examiner that Boehner has said "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. We hope and expect the White House will work with us on a timely, fiscally-responsible solution."

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Joseph Lawler

Economics Writer
The Washington Examiner