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Lew warns Congress of debt ceiling

WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has told Congress that by late February he will run out of steps he can take to avoid a first-ever default on U.S. debt.

In a letter to congressional leaders Wednesday, Lew said he thinks he will exhaust the bookkeeping maneuvers he can make to avoid breaching the federal borrowing limit sooner than previously thought. He had estimated in December that he could avoid a default until late February or early March.

He urged Congress to raise the limit before Feb. 7.

He said the maneuvers would probably clear only $200 billion of borrowing room, less than the $330 billion that the bookkeeping steps freed up in 2013, for example.

“The significantly smaller amount of headroom that can be freed up now will quickly be exhausted by the large obligations of the government that occur in the month of February,” Lew wrote.

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