WASHINGTON -- Top Wall Street chief executives met with President Obama on Wednesday and warned of severe economic consequences if the standoff over the federal budget and debt limit is not ended soon.
Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein said the bankers were not taking sides in the partisan fight that triggered the continuing partial government shutdown, noting they met with Republican leaders on Capitol Hill as well.
But speaking to reporters outside the White House, Blankfein backed Obama's position that Republicans should not be withholding an increase in the nation's $16.7 trillion debt limit as part of negotiations over spending and the new healthcare law.
"You can litigate these policy issues, you can relitigate these policy issues in a political forum, but you shouldn’t use the threat of causing the U.S. to fail on its obligations to repay the debt as a cudgel," Blankfein said after the noontime meeting.
The Treasury Department said the debt limit must be raised by Oct. 17 or the nation would be faced with its first-ever default.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said past debt-limit increases have been part of broad spending agreements. But Obama has said he will not negotiate on the debt limit, which Congress has the responsibility to raise to pay for spending it already authorized.
Blankfein, Bank of America Chief Executive Brian Moynihan and JPMorgan Chase Chief Executive Jamie Dimon were among several CEOs who met with Obama at the White House and earlier Wednesday on Capitol Hill with House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield).
The meetings were organized by the Financial Services Forum, a Washington-based trade group.
Moynihan said failing to raise the debt limit would be more damaging than the government shutdown, noting the financial market turmoil and economic hit that accompanied the last major fight over the issue in 2011.
"There’s no debate that the seriousness of the U.S. not paying its debts, whether it's Social Security checks, small business loans … all the way up to the Treasury notes and bills, is the most serious thing we have," Moynihan told reporters after the meeting.
Blankfein noted there have been government shutdowns before, but never a federal default.
"There’s precedent for a government shutdown. There’s no precedent for default," Blankfein said.
"We’re the most important economy in the world. We’re the reserve currency of the world. Payments have to go out to people. If money doesn’t flow in, money doesn’t flow out," he said. "So we really haven’t seen this before, and I’m not anxious to be part of the process that witnesses it."
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