Mnuchin calls on Congress to raise debt limit as deadline approaches

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has called on Congress to raise the United States debt limit "at the first opportunity."

In a letter to congressional leaders dated Wednesday, Mnuchin said the Treasury will stop issuing certain state and local securities on March 15, when the most recent suspension of the debt limit expires. Mnuchin said the Treasury will likely start taking "extraordinary measures" the next day, when the U.S. will be at its statutory limit, to prevent default.

"As I said in my confirmation hearing, honoring the full faith and credit of our outstanding debt is a critical commitment. I encourage Congress to raise the debt limit at the first opportunity so that we can proceed with our joint priorities," Mnuchin wrote.

Those extraordinary measures, which could help the government to pay its bills for months, include things like postponing contributions to retirement funds for federal employees.

Republicans control the White House, Senate and House of Representatives, which could be seen as making a debt agreement easier to strike. However, the GOP's current focus on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, combined with possible budget disagreements within the party, could complicate the effort.

Press secretary Sean Spicer was asked Thursday if White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney, a fiscal hawk, would support raising the debt ceiling. He did not specifically say where Mulvaney came down on the issue, but said the administration likely has months to address it.

Members of both parties have used the mandatory borrowing cap as a negotiating tactic over many legislative battles. Congress struck agreements in 2013 and 2015 to suspend the debt limits.