Debt default would sink economy, U.S. Treasury warns

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Treasury Department is warning that the economy could plunge into a downturn worse than the Great Recession if Congress fails to raise the federal borrowing limit and the country defaults on its debt obligations.

A default could cause the nation’s credit markets to freeze, the value of the dollar to plummet and U.S. interest rates to skyrocket, according to the Treasury report released Thursday.

Treasury officials hope by laying out potential consequences they will be able to bring pressure on Congress to act. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has said he will have used up the extraordinary measures to avoid breaching the debt ceiling by Oct. 17. After that, the government will have around $30 billion of cash on hand.

The report looked at the disruptions caused to financial markets during a similar stand-off between the administration and Congress over raising the debt limit. It then made projections about what could occur if there were an actual default.

In August 2011, Congress eventually raised the nation’s borrowing limit before a default occurred but only after a protracted debate. The politics that nearly led to a default prompted Standard &Poor’s to cut the nation’s credit rating by a notch.

“As we saw two years ago, prolonged uncertainty over whether our nation will pay its bills in full and on time hurts our economy,” Lew said in a statement. “Postponing a debt ceiling increase to the very last minute is exactly what our economy does not need — a self-inflicted wound harming families and businesses.”

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