WASHINGTON: The White House signaled on Monday that it would be open to a short-term hike in the nation’s borrowing authority as the United States moved a step closer to its first-ever default and a partial government shutdown entered its second week.
Gene Sperling, a senior Obama economic adviser, was pressed on whether he would rule out a two- or three-week extension on increasing the nation’s $16.7 trillion debt limit. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has warned that on Oct. 17, he exhausts the bookkeeping maneuvers he has been using to keep borrowing.
“There’s no question that the longer the debt limit is extended, the greater economic certainty there will be in our economy which would be better for jobs, growth and investment,” Sperling told a breakfast sponsored by the newspaper Politico. “That said, it is the responsibility of Congress to decide how long and how often they want to vote on doing that.”
Economists say a default could trigger a financial crisis and recession that would echo 2008 — or worse. The 2008 financial crisis plunged the country into the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Sperling reiterated President Barack Obama’s vow not to negotiate on the debt because it would sanction the threat of default as a bargaining chip and increase the chance of default in the future.
A defiant House Speaker John Boehner has insisted that Obama must negotiate on changes to the 3-year-old health care law and spending cuts if he wants to end the shutdown and avert a default.
“We’re not going to pass a clean debt limit increase,” the Ohio Republican said in a television interview Sunday. “I told the president, there’s no way we’re going to pass one. The votes are not in the House to pass a clean debt limit, and the president is risking default by not having a conversation with us.”
The uncompromising talk rattled financial markets early Monday as stocks slumped. China, which holds $1.277 trillion in U.S. Treasury bonds and stands as the United States’ biggest foreign creditor, urged that all efforts are made to avoid a default.
Among congressional leaders, however, animosity marked the stalemate and resolution seemed elusive.