The game of Washington chicken over increasing the debt limit — required so Treasury can borrow more money to pay the government's bills in full and on time — had sent the stock market south, spiked the interest rate for one-month Treasury bills and prompted Fidelity Investments, the nation's largest manager of money market mutual funds, to sell federal debt that comes due around the time the nation could hit its borrowing limit.
At the Finance committee hearing, Lew met incredulity from Republicans, who said the bigger problem was the soaring costs of benefit programs like Social Security and Medicare and the long-term budget deficits the country faces. Many expressed doubt about Lew's description of the consequences of default.
Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., said, "I think this is 11th time I've been through this discussion about the sky is falling and the Earth will erupt. Wyoming families aren't buying these arguments."
Replied Lew, "After they run up their credit card, they don't get to ignore it."
Meanwhile, the Senate gave final congressional approval to a bill ensuring that families of fallen troops be paid death benefits, which have been halted during the shutdown. Word that those payments had stopped prompted lawmakers of both parties to act to restore them.
In addition, the House voted 249-175 to finance border security and customs personnel through Dec. 15, the latest of the House GOP's bills aimed at reviving selected programs during the shutdown. The Senate has ignored most of the measures, saying the entire government must be restarted.
Associated Press Writers Alan Fram, Stephen Ohlemacher, David Espo, Donna Cassata, Martin Crutsinger, Laurie Kellman and Julie Pace contributed to this story.