Oct. 10--Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew refused to tell Congress on Thursday how he would prioritize spending obligations in the event the Treasury Department hits the $16.7 trillion debt limit, saying that he doesn't know what the legal framework would be for making those decisions.
Mr. Lew, testifying to the Senate Finance Committee, also wouldn't say how much of a debt increase the administration wants to see, saying only that "more certainty is better."
At his press conference on Tuesday President Obama also declined to lay out specifics, saying he would leave that to Mr. Lew and Thursday's testimony, but the secretary also stayed away from details, saying only that he didn't want to be put in the position of having to prioritize between spending, and didn't know the legal authority he would have to pick and choose.
"I think prioritization is just default by another name," Mr. Lew said.
He said the choices would be between paying Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries or veterans.
But one option Mr. Lew did not mention was stopping interest or principal payments on debt.
The Treasury has been nearly at the debt limit for several months, and Mr. Lew has been using "extraordinary measures" -- tapping other funds -- to keep from actually hitting the limit. The room under those measures will be exhausted by Oct. 17, he said.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, the ranking Republican on the committee, said much of the problem can be laid at the feet of President Obama, who has taken a hands-off approach, refusing to talk with Republicans.
He blamed Mr. Lew for an "apparent effort to whip up uncertainty in the markets" by warning of halted payments, rather than trying to bring certainty by saying what he will and won't pay.
Throughout his tenure, Mr. Obama has been reluctant to pick and choose between spending programs, instead fighting chiefly for tax increases.
Republicans said the fact that Mr. Lew wouldn't even say what size or length debt limit he wants to see shows the administration isn't working with Congress.
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Original headline: Treasury Secretary Jack Lew refuses to lay out priorities for post-debt spending
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