Jack Lew warns Congress over debt ceiling

Is it time to kill the debt ceiling?
Is it time to kill the debt ceiling?

Congress has been fighting over the Iran trade deal, a highway bill and Puerto Rico's debt crisis.

On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew sent legislative leaders a little reminder about another contentious item: the debt ceiling.

Lew's basic message was that the debt ceiling needs to be raised, and the sooner the better.

But if "soon" isn't on the agenda, Treasury's special accounting measures, in use since March, will likely buy lawmakers until at least mid-fall before they have to act.

"We believe that the measures will not be exhausted before late October, and it is likely that they will last for at least a brief additional period of time," Lew wrote.

In March, a suspension of the debt limit expired and the ceiling was reset at $18.113 trillion.

But Congress didn't act, even though the nation's debt was effectively at its legal borrowing limit, and Treasury needed to keep borrowing to pay the country's bills.

Enter the "extraordinary measures" that Lew refers to in his letter.

Related: Meet the new debt ceiling - $18,113,000,000,000

The good news is that revenue has been strong this year, thereby reducing how much money Treasury must borrow to pay the expenses that Congress has already authorized the country to incur.

The debt limit is by now very familiar issue. Congress has elected to suspend or raise it no less than seven times since 2010, and almost always at the very last minute, often after a major battle.

It's not clear yet how lawmakers will play the debt ceiling game this time around. But play they will and eventually they'll have to decide whether to approve an outright increase to the legal borrowing limit or "suspend" the ceiling for some period yet again.

Related video: Is it time to kill the debt ceiling?

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