The U.S. government says it will run out of money to pay its bills in late February, a bit sooner than first thought.
In December, Treasury chief Jacob Lew wrote to congressional leaders that the borrowing limit would be reached in late February or early March. But on Thursday, he urged Congress to raise the country's borrowing limit again by the end of February, to make sure the country does not default on its debts.
The U.S. has accumulated $17.3 trillion in debt over the years and the figure grows by the day. The government suspended limits on the debt ceiling in October, but is reinstating it on February 7. At that point, Treasury officials can use what they call "extraordinary measures" to keep paying the country's bills even as it edges closer to running out of cash.
In recent years, raising the country's borrowing limit has led to contentious political debates in Washington. President Barack Obama, a Democrat, is seeking an increase in the ceiling without conditions, saying that new borrowing authority is needed to pay debts that have already been incurred by the country. His Republican opponents in Congress want more spending cuts before approving another increase in the borrowing limit.
The leader of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, Speaker John Boehner, said he does not know how any negotiations over the debt limit will play out, but that under no circumstances should the U.S. default.
"All I know is that we should not default on our debt. We shouldn't even get close to it," he said.
U.S. spending and debt issues have proved contentious during Obama's five years in the White House, but Congress is on the verge of approving a compromise $1.1 trillion government spending plan for 2014 that he supports.