Congress 'playing with fire' over debt ceiling: US Treasury Secretary

Jack Lew says it would be 'reckless' and 'dangerous' to let Oct. 17 deadline lapse

US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew calls on Congress to 'end threats' over debt limit
REUTERS/CBS News/Chris Usher/Handout via Reuters

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew accused Congress of “playing with fire” over an approaching deadline to raise the debt ceiling, as Republican opponents of the White House vowed to not pass a clean bill over the issue.

Lawmakers have until Oct. 17 to increase the government’s borrowing limit, or face an embarrassing default on its sovereign debt for the first time in history - a development that experts say could reverse the fragile U.S economic recovery.

But with President Barack Obama insisting on a clean bill with no conditions, and House Republicans seemingly refusing to comply with that demand, Washington – already subjected to a federal shutdown – is braced for another bitter round of brinkmanship.

Making the rounds on the Sunday political talk shows, Lew said that missing the debt ceiling deadline would be “dangerous” and “reckless.”

"I'm telling you that on the 17th, we run out of the ability to borrow, and Congress is playing with fire," Lew told CNN’s State of the Union.

In an interview with CBS’s Face the Nation he added: "What we've seen is ... `Unless I get my way, you know, that we'll bring these terrible consequences of shutdown or default.'

"Those kinds of threats have to stop," he added.

But House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Sunday it would be President Barack Obama’s fault if Congress failed to raise the debt ceiling.

The Ohio Republican told ABC he will not allow his GOP-led House to vote on a bill reopening the government without serious talks about spending. He also said he will not go forward with a bill increasing the government's borrowing authority without a similar conversation.

"We're not going to pass a clean debt limit increase," Boehner told ABC’s This Week. As for the possibility of a first-ever default, Boehner said “That’s the path we’re on.”

Meanwhile, Boehner and Obama traded salvos over the government shutdown Sunday.

In a tweet, the president called for a straight up and down vote in the House. “There are enough votes in the House to end the shutdown,” he posted.

But Boehner dug in. "I told the president, there's no way we're going to pass one. The votes are not in the House to pass a clean debt limit, and the president is risking default by not having a conversation with us," he said Sunday.

Boehner said he doesn't know when the government shutdown will end, suggesting it was up to Obama to start negotiations.

Since Tuesday, the Republican-led House of Representatives has passed several bills to reopen selected parts of the government.

Democratic leaders are resisting the piecemeal approach, saying the entire government should be reopened and the 800,000 federal workers on furlough sent back to work.

On Sunday, Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, described the debt ceiling deadline as a means to extract concessions from Democrats.

Cruz, a darling of the GOP’s tea party fringe, said the threat of a first-ever default is the best leverage that Congress has to rein in the White House.

He told CNN that any agreement to allow the government to borrow more money to pay its bills must include a "significant" plan to reduce future spending, no new taxes and "mitigating the harms from Obamacare."

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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