Yellen Warns the U.S. Could Default as Soon as June 1

Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen reiterated on Monday that the United States could be unable to pay its bills as soon as June 1, an announcement that maintains pressure on the White House and congressional leaders as they negotiate how to raise the nation’s debt limit.

The warning to Congress comes as President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy are set to meet on Monday afternoon at the White House to try and resolve the impasse. Representatives for Mr. Biden and Mr. McCarthy have been engaged in talks over the past week to devise a plan that would cap federal spending and reduce the deficit while raising the $31.4 trillion borrowing cap.

Ms. Yellen warned that the nation’s finances remain in a precarious state, saying that it was “highly likely” the United States would run out of cash by early June, rather than her previous letters, which called that time-frame “likely.”

“With an additional week of information now available, I am writing to note that we estimate that it is highly likely that Treasury will no longer be able to satisfy all of the government’s obligations if Congress has not acted to raise or suspend the debt limit by early June, and potentially as early as June 1,” Ms. Yellen wrote.

In her previous letter, issued a week ago, Ms. Yellen offered the caveat that her estimates could be off because of the unpredictability of incoming government tax revenue. She said that the actual date that Treasury will exhaust the so-called extraordinary measures that she is using to delay a default “could be a number of days or weeks later.”

On Monday, Ms. Yellen did not suggest that there might be more time and she warned that failing to lift the debt limit would be disastrous for the economy.

“If Congress fails to increase the debt limit, it would cause severe hardship to American families, harm our global leadership position, and raise questions about our ability to defend our national security interests,” Ms. Yellen said.

The nation’s cash balance has been running perilously low. On Sunday, Ms. Yellen dismissed hopes that the so-called extraordinary measures that she has been using to delay a default would be sufficient to maintain normal government operations beyond mid-June.

Republicans have refused to raise the debt limit without spending cuts, forcing Democrats to the negotiating table to avoid a default that could cause a recession and financial crisis. The two sides remain far apart on key issues, including on caps for federal spending, new work requirements for some recipients of federal antipoverty assistance and funding meant to help the Internal Revenue Service crack down on tax evasion by high earners and corporations.

The Treasury secretary said over the weekend that a failure to raise the debt limit would force the government to confront difficult choices about how to meet the nation’s financial obligations. Benefits payments to retirees and veterans are likely to be disrupted, and the uncertainty could cause interest rates to surge and stock prices to plunge.

The Biden administration has downplayed the idea that it could essentially ignore the debt limit and continue borrowing by invoking the 14th Amendment, which says that the validity of U.S. debt shall not be questioned. Although the administration’s lawyers have studied the idea, officials believe that the expected legal challenges and uncertainty would destabilize markets.

“There can be no acceptable outcomes if the debt ceiling isn’t raised,” Ms. Yellen said on “Meet the Press” on NBC.

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