POLITICS: PennAve

Treasury's Jack Lew: Debt ceiling must be raised by late February or early March

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Treasury Secretary Jack Lew started the countdown to the next debt ceiling standoff Thursday afternoon, writing in a letter to House Majority Leader John Boehner that the debt ceiling will have to be raised before "late February or early March" of next year.

That is when the Treasury projects it will run out of "extraordinary measures" to create headroom under the statutory debt limit, which was suspended until Feb. 7 by a congressional deal in October that was reached with the clock ticking down toward the possibility of the government losing its ability to make all of its payments on time.

The Treasury had used extraordinary measures to fund the government's activities starting in May, and had continued to do so before Congress finally lifted the limit and simultaneously ended the shutdown on Oct. 17.

This time, the Treasury will not be able to buy as much time with extraordinary measures because the Treasury has high net outflows because of tax refunds during February and March, Lew said.

The range of dates Lew identified as the last days the government would be able to meet all of its obligations were what outside organizations such as the Bipartisan Policy Center had anticipated.

In his letter, Lew cited the House's bipartisan vote to pass a budget agreement in calling on Boehner to quickly pass a debt ceiling increase without another major partisan conflict "at the earliest possible moment and ideally well before Feb. 7, 2014."

Obama administration officials have said that they will not bargain with Republicans over raising the debt limit, a promise they also made before October's showdown.

But congressional Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., indicated this week that they will try to tie the debt ceiling vote to GOP demands.

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