Treasury's Mnuchin on debt ceiling deal: Sooner, the better

The U.S. Treasury Department has the ability to continue paying the nation’s debts until September, but Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he’d prefer to get a deal signed, sealed and delivered sooner rather than later.

“Our credit is the most important issue,” he told the FOX Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo on Tuesday morning in a first on Fox interview. “When it comes to funding the government, and we’ve already spent the money, we need to raise the debt ceiling…I think the sooner we do this, the better, and we’re very focused on it.”

Mnuchin said he was “comfortable” a deal will get done before the U.S. runs out of borrowing authority and said the timeframe wouldn’t create a “serious problem.” In remarks before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government Monday evening, the Treasury secretary declined to offer a hard deadline for when the ceiling would need to be raised, but said it could wait until after the August congressional recess.

“If for whatever reason Congress does not act before August, we do have backup plans that we can fund the government,” he said Monday, declining Tuesday to elaborate much on that point to Fox’s Bartiromo except to reiterate his commitment to extending the nation’s credit limit amid continued efforts to institute tighter controls on government spending.

The debt limit is the amount of money the government is authorized to borrow in order to meet its existing obligations, which includes spending on social programs like Social Security, Medicare benefits, military salaries and interest on the national debt. While lawmakers have, in the past, squabbled about raising the borrowing authority, it has successfully done so 78 times, according to the Treasury Department’s website. Never has Congress failed to lift the debt ceiling.

In March, Mnuchin and his Treasury Department began taking so-called extraordinary measures – like suspending the sale of state and local government series securities – to temporarily prevent the U.S. from defaulting on its obligations. The Congressional Budget Office estimated those efforts would exhaust “sometime in the fall of this year” if no action on the debt limit was taken.

“The world market’s looking to us and this is something we’re going to work with Congress on. We look forward to getting it done sooner rather than later but I think everybody agrees we will be raising the debt limit,” Mnuchin said Tuesday.