The US Treasury Department reminded Congress on Thursday to lift the country's debt limit by November 5 or risk threatening the good credit rating of the world's largest economy.
A day after President Barack Obama signed a temporary spending bill to fund the government through December 11, just hours before the start of the 2016 fiscal year, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew sent a letter to Congress urging lawmakers to protect faith in the country's credit.
The Treasury has been taking extraordinary measures to avoid bumping into the government's statutory borrowing limit of roughly $18.1 trillion, but was likely to exhaust those measures "on or about Thursday, November 5," he wrote, as he had indicated in a previous letter on September 10.
"At that point, we would be left to fund the government with only the cash we have on hand, which we currently forecast to be below $30 billion. This amount would be far short of net expenditures on certain days, which can be as high as $60 billion," Lew said.
"Without sufficient cash, it would be impossible for the United States of America to meet all of its obligations for the first time in our history."
Raising the debt limit has been a political minefield in recent years. Republican and Democratic lawmakers fought a series of battles over borrowings between 2011 and 2014 that roiled financial markets, caused an unprecedented downgrade of the country's triple-A debt rating by Standard & Poor's, and forced a partial government shutdown for 16 days in 2013
The Republicans, who now control both the Senate and the House of Representatives, have used the limit to extract spending and tax concessions from the Democratic president.
Lew warned the lawmakers against "brinkmanship" that could once again harm the country's credibility.
"Protecting the full faith and credit of the United States is the responsibility of the United States Congress. There is no way to predict the catastrophic damage that default would have on our economy and global financial markets," he wrote.
"Moreover, we have learned from previous debt limit impasses that failing to act until the last minute and engaging in partisan brinksmanship 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.
"To remove these unnecessary and avoidable threats, I respectfully urge Congress to take action as soon as possible and raise the debt limit well before Treasury exhausts its extraordinary measures."