Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says he is certain that Congress will raise the debt ceiling, saying leaders are "not going to play around with it" and risk the "catastrophic" consequences of defaulting on the nation's debt obligations.
"I want to make it perfectly clear that Congress will raise the debt ceiling," Geithner said in an interview with ABC News "This Week" anchor Christiane Amanpour. When asked if he was sure, Geithner responded, "absolutely," adding that Congressional leaders made clear they understood the importance of the matter when meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House last Wednesday.
"I sat there with them, and they said, we recognize we have to do this. And we're not going to play around with it," Geithner said of last week's White House meeting. "We know that the risk would be catastrophic."
"This is just about the basic trust and confidence in the United States," Geithner added. "It's about the basic recognition that we made commitments, we have to meet our commitments. There's no alternative, and they recognize that."
As many administration officials have done in recent months, Geithner spelled out dire consequences if the debt ceiling is not raised by June.
"What will happen is that we'd have to stop making payments to our seniors -- Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. We'd have to stop paying veterans' benefits. We'd have to stop paying all the other payments on all the other things the government does," Geithner said. "And then we would risk default on our debt -- and if we did that, we'd tip the U.S. economy and the world economy back into recession -- depression."
"The people who would take this to edge, to the brink, they'll own responsibility for calling it to question, our credit worthiness, and that would not be a responsible thing to do," Geithner added.
He also added that defaulting on the nation's debt would make the 2008 financial crisis look modest in comparison.
"I think it would make the last crisis look like … a modest crisis. It would be much more dramatic," Geithner said. "The cost of borrowing would go up for everybody, and it would have a permanent devastating damage on our credit rating on us as a country."
While the debt ceiling debate looms large, Geithner says he does not believe the spending cuts agreed to in last week's budget resolution will damage the current economic recovery, as long as a balanced approach is taken.
"You need to do this gradually so that you protect the recovery, and I think we can do that," Geithner said.
The treasury secretary said there has been a fundamental shift in understanding the long-term impact of deficits, even if there are still differences between Democrats and Republicans on how to address them.
We spent a lot of years before the crisis with people saying deficits don't matter," Geithner told Amanpour. "Tax cuts pay for themselves. We can do huge expansion in entitlements without paying for it. And that's changed fundamentally now… People no longer say, Republicans or Democrats, that we can afford to live beyond our means. And that's a very important change."