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Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in the Capitol in August 2021. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen again called on congressional leaders to raise the debt ceiling in a letter Wednesday, saying the country may soon be unable to meet its financial obligations if nothing is done.

Why it matters: Yellen said the Treasury estimates that it will run out of cash and "extraordinary measures" used to finance the government in October.

  • A default — which has never before occurred in U.S. history — would "likely cause irreparable damage to the U.S. economy and global financial markets," Yellen said.
  • The last debt-limit suspension, passed in 2019, lapsed on July 31.

Republican lawmakers have threatened to vote against raising the debt ceiling, arguing that it will only promote more government spending.

  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has instead urged Democrats to pass an increase through their proposed $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package because it cannot be filibustered by Republicans.
  • The move is McConnell's attempt at making it easier to saddle his opponents politically with greater debt. But the reconciliation process may not be finished before the Treasury breaches the debt limit, which could force some Republicans to vote for an increase, Axios' Hans Nichols reports.
  • Yellen opposes a debt ceiling increase through a budget reconciliation package, saying it should instead be passed "through regular order, with broad bipartisan support."

What they're saying: "We have learned from past debt limit impasses that waiting until the last minute to suspend or increase the debt limit can cause serious harm to business and consumer confidence, raise short term borrowing costs for taxpayers, and negatively impact the credit rating of the United States," Yellen said in the letter.

  • "At a time when American families, communities, and businesses are still suffering from the effects of the ongoing global pandemic, it would be particularly irresponsible to put the full faith and credit of the United States at risk."
  • Yellen said there is considerable uncertainty surrounding exactly when the Treasury will run out of funding in part because of the coronavirus pandemic and spending associated with COVID relief programs.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a press conference on Wednesday that Democrats will not include a debt ceiling increase in the reconciliation package.

The big picture: Since the debt limit was reinstated on Aug 1, the Treasury has been forced to resort to "extraordinary measures" to service debt, such as by suspending investments in certain federal retirement and health funds.

  • The debt ceiling does not determine how much the government spends but only how much the government can borrow to pay for spending approved by Congress.
  • Republicans and Democrats worked together to raise the borrowing limit three times throughout the Trump administration and several times in other previous administrations.

Go deeper: White House seeks to coordinate debt-ceiling message

Go deeper

Dec 15, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Trump Republicans eager to dethrone McConnell as GOP leader

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Mitch McConnell is facing a frontal assault from emboldened pro-Trump Republicans eager to unseat him as the Senate’s GOP leader.

Why it matters: The Kentuckian has long been viewed as the most powerful Republican in Congress, a figure many in the party have feared turning into an enemy. His endurance has allowed him to reshape the Supreme Court and dictate much of the national political agenda for over a decade.

28 mins ago - Health

Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific COVID vaccine

A health worker in Palestine preparing a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech's coronavirus vaccine on Jan. 24. Photo: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Pfizer and BioNTech announced Tuesday that they have started clinical trials for a reformulated vaccine to protect against the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Why it matters: The rise of the Omicron variant has forced vaccine makers to reassess the effectiveness of their vaccines.

Retail stock traders power stunning comeback after deep selloff

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

Stocks staged a Patrick Mahomes-esque comeback Monday, after plunging for the first few hours of trading.

Why it matters: The remarkable recovery suggests that retail traders who upended markets over the last year — most notably during the GameStop bonanza that occurred almost exactly a year ago — continue to be powerful influence in the markets.

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