Congress Needs to Pass Debt Limit, Treasury Secretary Says

WASHINGTON -- Congress needs to raise the debt limit and take away the "cloud of uncertainty" about the nation's ability to pay its bills, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in an interview broadcast Sunday.

"The fight over the debt limit in 2011 hurt the economy, even though, in the end, we saw an extension of the debt limit," Lew said on NBC's Meet The Press. "We saw confidence fall, and it hurt the economy. Congress needs to do its job. It needs to finish its work on appropriation bills. It needs to pass a debt limit."

Senior lawmakers on Capitol Hill are trying to come up with must-do legislation to keep federal agencies running after Sept. 30 and prevent the possibility of a government shutdown. At issue is what is normally routine: a plug-the-gap measure to finance the government for a few weeks or months until a deal can be worked out on appropriations bills giving agencies their operating budgets for the full 2014 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

But some Democrats don't want to vote to continue to finance the government at new, lower levels mandated by the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration. And some conservatives are making a last stand against President Barack Obama's new health care law. In addition, Senate Democrats are resistant to a $20 billion spending cut sought by many Republicans.

The issue has divided Republicans between those who think it's appropriate to use the threat of a government shutdown as a negotiating tactic, and those who don't.

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said Republicans should be searching for ways to de-fund or repeal the Obama health care act. But he called threatening to shut down the government "terror politics" and said the strategy wouldn't work. Others have worried that the gamesmanship could cause Republicans to lose control of the House.

Some observers say it's an idea doomed to fail anyway, since Obama brings both a veto pen and the White House podium to the battle.

"We should not be closing down the government under any circumstances," King said Sunday on CNN's State of the Union.

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