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U.S. nears 'max out' point on borrowing, Treasury chief warns

| Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

WASHINGTON —Treasury Secretary Jack Lew urged Congress on Monday to act quickly to raise the federal debt limit, saying he will run short of cash to pay the nation's bills by the end of this month without additional borrowing authority.

Enforcement of the debt limit is now suspended, but it will come back into force on Friday under terms of a deal lawmakers struck last fall. That leaves Lew bumping up against the limit at the height of tax-filing season, when, he said Monday, he will have far less flexibility to juggle the books and ward off disaster.

“Unlike other recent periods when we have had to use extraordinary measures to continue financing the government, this time these measures will give us only a brief span of time,” Lew said during a speech at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “Given these realities, it is imperative that Congress move right away to increase our borrowing authority.”

Congress, meanwhile, is moving at a relatively glacial pace. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said last week that he will not permit the nation to default on its debt. But House Republicans emerged from their annual policy retreat without a strategy for raising the debt limit.

The most popular option under discussion by Republicans would combine a one-year extension of the debt limit with a ban on “bailouts” for health insurance companies under the Affordable Care Act.

But Democrats note that the provisions dubbed “bailouts” by the GOP are needed to ease the transition into the ACA's public marketplaces — and, in fact, were employed when Republicans set up a similar system for the Medicare Part D prescription drug program.

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