POLITICS: PennAve

Jack Lew: Congress accepts White House debt-limit deadline

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Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said lawmakers had accepted the administration's deadline for raising the nation's debt ceiling and that he expected Congress to act before Feb. 7.

“They need to act in that window,” Lew said of Congress, warning that “extraordinary measures” he was employing to avoid a default would run out next month.

He added that while there had been some confusion among lawmakers about when the Treasury would hit its borrowing limit, that had now been resolved.

“I think they've accepted the deadline,” the secretary told reporters aboard Air Force One, as he accompanies President Obama to an event in Pittsburgh, where they will tout new “MyRA” retirement accounts announced in Tuesday's State of the Union speech.

In a letter to Congress last week, Lew said he would no longer be able to take steps to avoid a default by the end of February and told lawmakers they needed to act earlier in the month to provide a cushion. The revised date pushed up the deadline, which Lew had initially projected to fall in early March.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he thought the deadline would fall in May, initially contradicting the White House timeline. His spokesman later said that Reid wanted to address the debt limit as quickly as possible.

The debt-ceiling deadline provides Washington with its next fiscal fight, with the White House warning that Obama will not negotiate over raising the borrowing limit. But Republicans say they will push for additional spending cuts or entitlement reforms in exchange.

Senior Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer said the administration would not pay a “ransom” for a debt hike. He declined to say if the president would veto a bill that included GOP conditions, saying that “our position on this is the same as it was in October and the same as it has been for more than a year.”

“The American people should not have to pay their members of Congress ransom for doing their most basic function which is paying the bills,” he continued.

A GOP effort to defund Obamacare led to a 16-day federal government shutdown in October and brought the U.S. to within hours of defaulting on its debt.

“They have passed what is essentially a debt limit free of ideological riders the last two times. They should do it again and spare the country the drama and economic damage,” Pfeiffer insisted.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., though called those demands “irresponsible” and insisted Republicans would seek concessions.

“I think for the president to ask for a clean debt ceiling when we have a debt the size of our economy is irresponsible,” McConnell said in an interview Sunday. “We ought to discuss adding something to his request to raise the debt ceiling that does something about the debt or produces at least something positive for our country.”

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