Treasury issued a report on Thursday detailing in stark terms what could happen if the government actually defaulted on its obligations to service the national debt.
"A default would be unprecedented and has the potential to be catastrophic," the Treasury report said. "Credit markets could freeze, the value of the dollar could plummet, U.S. interest rates could skyrocket, the negative spillovers could reverberate around the world."
Private economists generally agree that a default on the U.S. debt would be extremely harmful, especially if the impasse was not resolved quickly.
"If they don't pay on the debt, that would cost us for generations to come," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics. He said a debt default would be a "cataclysmic" event that would roil financial markets in the United States and around the world.
Zandi said that holders of U.S. Treasury bonds would demand higher interest rates which would cost the country hundreds of billions of dollars in higher interest payments in coming years on the national debt.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a force in pushing Republicans to link changes to the health care law in exchange for keeping the government running, spelled out his conditions for raising the borrowing authority.
"We should look for three things. No. 1, we should look for some significant structural plan to reduce government spending. No. 2, we should avoid new taxes. And No. 3, we should look for ways to mitigate the harms from 'Obamacare,'" Cruz said, describing the debt ceiling as an issue that is among the "best leverage the Congress has to rein in the executive."
Some Republicans, such as Rep. Steve King of Iowa, dismiss the warnings about a government default as an exaggeration, suggesting U.S. credit won't collapse and calling the talk "a lot of false demagoguery."
Asked how the standoff might end, Boehner, R-Ohio, said that he was uncertain: "If I knew, I'd tell you."
Boehner and Schumer were interviewed on ABC's "This Week," and Lew and Cruz on CNN's "State of the Union." Lew also appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation," ''Fox News Sunday" and NBC's "Meet the Press."
Associated Press writer Martin Crutsinger contributed to this report.
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