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Treasury chief asks for bipartisan approach to debt ceiling

Jack Lew testifies during his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington before the Senate Finance Committee.AP2013

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew dialed back from dire-sounding prepared comments on the country’s fiscal health Monday, and instead called for a bipartisan approach to dealing with the looming debt ceiling deadline. 

Lew, speaking at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, said 2014 might not be the year for a major debt deal. Instead, he said success in the short and medium-term have bought some time to deal with the country’s long-term debt problem.

Instead, Lew lobbied for a bipartisan approach.

“What we need to do is develop a track record for being able to work together, to develop some trust across the aisle, and if we can get some of the other things that I’ve mentioned (immigration reform, infrastructure investments) done this year and over the next 18 months, that would be an excellent foundation for tackling some of the harder problems as we go forward,” Lew said during the question-and-answer period.

In his prepared remarks, Lew said the government could start defaulting on its obligations “very soon” and said the Treasury Department will run out of “extraordinary measures” to keep the government afloat by the end of February if Congress does not act to raise the debt limit.

Lew said the federal government should hit the ceiling by the end of the month.

He said that the federal government would then burn through its remaining cash more quickly than it would at other times of the year because Treasury would be issuing refund checks.

A suspension on the borrowing limit will lift Friday. The Treasury will then turn to accounting measures that will allow the government to keep adding to the debt but that strategy will only buys the government a couple of weeks.

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