Treasury Secretary: Congress Has ‘No Choice’ but to Increase Debt Limit

By Pete Winn | April 11, 2013 | 3:53pm EDT

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew testifies on Capitol Hill. (AP photo)

( - Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told members of the House Ways and Means Committee Thursday that Congress has “no choice” but to increase the debt ceiling the next time it deals with the issue – which could come as early as the end of April.

Lew, who was on Capitol Hill to testify on President Obama’s proposed fiscal year 2014 budget, also said that there is “no way to pick and choose about paying your bills without being in default on one or another obligation.”

Lew was asked about the debt ceiling by Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the committee:

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REP. SANDER LEVIN (D-Mich.): “Let me ask you about another piece of this gridlock --  the debt ceiling; it's going to once again be bumped into. And there was a hearing yesterday about prioritization as to the debts we pay. Could you give us the administration view on how we handle the debt ceiling?”

TREASURY SECRETARY JACOB LEW: “Congressman, I think the president's been clear that there is no choice but for Congress to extend the debt limit. The debt limit does not commit any new spending. All the debt limit does is it permits the government to pay the bills that Congress has authorized to be incurred. And from the beginning of our history, the United States has always paid its bills. So there’s no way to pick and choose about paying your bills without being in default on one or another obligation. So the only answer is to extend the debt limit, which is what we expect Congress will do.”

The U.S. is expected to hit the debt ceiling again in May. However, House Republicans are expected to push for a vote sometime near the end of April on a bill sponsored by Rep. Tom McLintock (R-Calif.) that would require the federal government to prioritize paying its debts in the event the ceiling is not raised.

The priorities would fall in the following manner: 1) paying the principal and the interest on U.S. debt; 2) pay for U.S. troops; 3) pay for vital national security priorities; 4) pay for Social Security and 5) pay for Medicare.

House Republican Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has indicated that Republicans will try to bring the bill to the House floor "soon" -- which reportedly will be before the end of April.


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