The U.S. Treasury Department will run out of its abilities to pay the nation's debt by Feb. 27, unless Congress takes its responsibility and raises the debt limit, the Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said on Friday.
The U.S. Congress suspended the debt limit last October as part of a deal to re-open the government after a 16-day partial shutdown. But the temporary suspension lasts only through Feb. 7.
After Friday, the Treasury Department will have to start using extraordinary measures to avoid a first-ever default on the national debt. Lew said in a letter to the U.S. Congressional leaders that "time is short," as those measures will probably only last until Feb. 27.
"At that point, Treasury would be left with only the cash on hand and any incoming revenue to meet our country's commitments," Lew said, warning "it is even more difficult to forecast accurately the amount of cash that Treasury will have after our borrowing authority is exhausted."
He estimated that the amount will be approximately 50 billion U.S. dollars, and any foreseeable cash balance would be exhausted quickly.
The secretary urged Congress to raise the debt limit and provide certainty to the economy and financial markets before its adjournment, which will last through the next three weeks.
"Protecting the full faith and credit of the United States is the responsibility of Congress because only Congress can extend the nation's borrowing authority," Lew said.
However, House Speaker John Boehner said at Thursday's weekly press briefing that the GOP-controlled House has not decided how to deal with the debt limit, but pledged no default.
"A lot of opinions about how to deal with the debt limit. No decisions have been made," the Ohio Republican said. "The goal here is to increase the debt ceiling. Nobody wants to default on our debt."
The U.S. federal government currently runs a debt limit of 17 trillion dollars. The debt ceiling needs to be raised to pay social security benefits, federal workers' salaries and interest payments on U.S. treasuries.