WASHINGTON -- Treasury Secretary Jack Lew warned House Speaker John Boehner Thursday that the federal government will reach its debt limit sometime in late February or early March 2014.
Congress voted to suspend the debt limit through Feb. 7 in the Continuing Appropriations Act that passed in October. Lew noted that the Treasury Department can use extraordinary measures to pay the government's bills for a few more weeks after that, but not much longer.
"While this forecast is subject to inherent variability, we do not foresee any reasonable scenario in which the extraordinary measures would last for an extended period of time -- principally because the government experiences large net cash outflows in February and March due to tax refunds," he wrote.
Congress recently voted for a bipartisan budget agreement to fund the government through 2015, but that deal did not include an increase in the statutory debt limit, which is currently set at $17.2 trillion.
The contours of the debt limit debate are familiar. The White House and congressional Democrats have vowed not to negotiate over an increase in the government's ability to pay its bills. Top Republicans such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have said they expect to win concessions in exchange for raising the debt limit.
In his letter, Lew warned lawmakers not to use the debt limit as a political tool.
"The creditworthiness of the United States is an essential underpinning of our strength as a nation; it is not a bargaining chip to be used for partisan political ends," he wrote. "Moreover, as you know, increasing the debt limit does not authorize new spending commitments. It simply allows the government to pay for expenditures Congress has already approved."