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U.S. 'shouldn't even get close to' debt default: Boehner

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) gestures as he speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington January 16, 2014. REUTERS/Yu
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) gestures as he speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington January 16, 2014. REUTERS/Yu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - House Speaker John Boehner on Thursday said the United States should avoid a major fight over raising the federal debt ceiling that brings the United States close to a default.

After passage of a $1.1 trillion spending bill, the only major fiscal hurdle facing Congress over the next nine months is an increase in the $17 trillion debt ceiling that is expected to be needed in as little as six weeks.

Boehner told a news conference that the United States should not default on its debt and "shouldn't even get close to it."

He did not say whether Republicans would tie an increase in the debt ceiling to demands for additional deficit reduction.

An extension of U.S. borrowing authority is due to expire on February 7, but the Treasury Department has said its extraordinary cash management measures can allow it to keep issuing new debt until late February or early March.

"I would hope that the House and the Senate would act quickly on a bill to increase the debt limit," Boehner said, without speculating on when such legislation could begin moving forward in Congress.

Speaking to reporters at his weekly press conference, Boehner was asked whether he would engage in direct negotiations with President Barack Obama on a new deficit-reduction package as part of the effort to increase the debt limit.

Boehner rejected that idea, saying, "there's not much really to talk about" because Obama has said he would not negotiate on the debt limit.

Past one-on-one budget negotiations between Obama and Boehner have largely ended in failure.

The Ohio Republican also said that "we find ourselves in a fairly difficult box" because Obama and his fellow Democrats insist on tax increases as part of any major new deficit-reduction and "Republicans are not going to raise taxes."

(Reporting By Richard Cowan and David Lawder; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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