“Congress is playing with fire,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “If the United States government, for the first time in its history, chooses not to pay its bills on time, we will be in default, there is no option that prevents us from being in default if we don’t have enough cash to pay our bills.”
Some have suggested that President Obama could use the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution to unilaterally raise the debt limit, but the administration says that's not so.
"The White House has spoken quite clearly to this," Lew said. "The president does not have the authority to take action in that kind of a way. The president consulted with his lawyers, and that's the conclusion that he's reached."
"You know, there is a desire here for there to be some kind of a magic solution," he continued, addressing the current government budget shutdown as well as the debt-limit crisis. "There is an easy solution ... A majority in Congress would do the right thing if given a chance to vote to open the government. A majority in Congress would do the right thing if given a chance to let us pay our bills. Congress needs to work, they need to do their job, but the majority needs to be given a chance."