Lew: Raise debt ceiling to avoid ‘terrible accident’

Congress risks "manufacturing crisis" by prevaricating over raising the debt ceiling, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in an opinion piece Monday in USA Today.

Unless the cap is raised beyond the current limit of $18.1 trillion, the Treasury is seen running out of money to pay bills in full and on time by Tuesday next week. It would then be left with only incoming taxes and fees to cover expenses, which will be insufficient.

Jack Lew, Treasury Secretary.
David Orrell | CNBC
Jack Lew, Treasury Secretary.

"We are on track for further economic growth — yet with eight days, as of Monday, until Treasury runs out of borrowing authority on November 3, some in Congress are endangering this progress by once again manufacturing a crisis for our country. By waiting to the last minute to act on the debt limit, Congress could cause a terrible accident," Lew wrote in USA Today.

He added that Congress had pushed the U.S. "to the brink of potential economic catastrophe" in 2011 and 2013 by waiting until the last moment to raise the then-debt ceiling.

Since 1960, Congress has acted 78 times to raise the debt cap or revise the definition of the debt limit — 49 times under Republican presidents and 29 times under Democratic presidents, according to the Treasury's website.

Last week, Lew told CNBC that Congress risked an accident "that could be terrible" by waiting until the last minute to raise the cap.