Geithner presses Republicans to lift U.S. debt limit

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Thursday stepped up pressure on Republican lawmakers to raise the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt limit, warning failure to act would lead to an economic catastrophe.

Geithner said the federal government may hit by March 31 the ceiling on the amount of debt it is legally allowed to issue, and urged Congress to raise it by then to avoid pushing the United States into default.

“Even a short-term or limited default would have catastrophic economic consequences that would last for decades,” Geithner said in a letter to U.S. Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.

The letter marked an effort by the Obama administration to take the offense in a debate newly empowered Republicans on Capitol Hill have tried to dominate. Republicans are pushing for fresh spending cuts to accompany any debt limit hike.

“The American people will not stand for such an increase unless it is accompanied by meaningful action by the president and Congress to cut spending and end the job-killing spending binge in Washington,” House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner said in a statement.

Congress has routinely voted to raise the debt limit every year since 2002, but the issue has taken on greater significance this year now that Republicans control the House.