WASHINGTON — The Treasury Department on Wednesday said the government will be able to pay its bills without a debt limit increase through Feb. 28, while urging Congress to raise the borrowing limit as soon as possible.


“Based upon available information, Treasury expects to be able to fund the government through the end of February. Treasury urges Congress to act promptly on this important matter,” Treasury Assistant Secretary for Capital Markets Clay Berry said in a statement.


The new estimates are roughly in line with those of some outside experts who have projected the government can continue to pay its bills until early March without a debt limit increase.


That timeline puts pressure on Congress to raise or suspend the debt limit in a must-pass bill fairly soon. GOP leaders have been mulling attaching a debt limit increase to a fiscal 2018 omnibus spending bill or a deal to raise the discretionary spending caps for two years. But it’s unclear how close Democrats and Republicans are to agreeing on a budget deal, and lawmakers have a deadline of Feb. 8 to write and pass another fiscal 2018 temporary stopgap spending measure.


In a separate letter to Congress, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said he would extend a “debt issuance suspension period” that previously ended on Jan. 31 through the end of February. The suspension allows the Treasury to put off investments in the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund and other government trust funds to provide continued borrowing room to fund the government, often referred to as “extraordinary measures.”


“I respectfully urge Congress to protect the full faith and credit of the United States by acting to increase the statutory debt limit as soon as possible,” he wrote.


Mnuchin previewed his department’s intent to extend the use of extraordinary measures through February in an appearance Tuesday before the Senate Banking Committee.


Congress had suspended the debt limit through Dec. 8 as part of a stopgap funding bill that President Donald Trump signed in September. The debt limit reset on Dec. 11 to $20.46 trillion, increasing by the amount of debt incurred since the prior suspension took effect.


—CQ-Roll Call


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US to speed up asylum interviews in move that may affect Venezuelans fleeing Maduro


MIAMI — The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) will speed up asylum applications to give priority to the most recently filed cases as a way to avoid allowing applicants who are unqualified for asylum the ability to work in the U.S. while they wait — sometimes for years — for processing.


The change announced Wednesday could have a particularly harsh impact on Venezuelan applicants. It is difficult to receive political asylum.


“The aim is to deter individuals from using asylum backlogs solely to obtain employment authorization by filing frivolous, fraudulent or otherwise non-meritorious asylum applications,” the USCIS said.


“Giving priority to recent filings allows USCIS to promptly place such individuals into removal proceedings, which reduces the incentive to file for asylum solely to obtain employment authorization,” it added.


As a result, the thousands of Venezuelans who have applied for asylum in the United States due to the authoritarian regime of President Nicolas Maduro may see their applications handled more quickly.


Several Miami lawyers told el Nuevo Herald that some people who submitted asylum requests in the last quarter of 2017 were surprised to receive USCIS notices scheduling interviews for January.


All the applicants processed so quickly were Venezuelans, said Elizabeth Blandon, president of the South Florida chapter of the Asylum Committee, which is part of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.


Asked whether the quicker processing could mean a wave of rejections for Venezuelans, Blandon said applications with merit are likely to be approved regardless of the date submitted.


Blandon said she handled the case of a Venezuelan who had a USCIS interview this month and already received notice that the agency recommended the application be approved.


The quicker interviews could affect claims because applicants may be required to produce their evidence more quickly, rather than having three, four or even five years to come up with the materials.


—El Nuevo Herald


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Citadel investigating ‘abhorrent racist statements’ made by cadet on social media


CHARLESTON, S.C. — “Abhorrent racist statements.”


That’s how the president of The Citadel described the content of a social media post made by a person believed to be one of his cadets.


Lt. Gen. John W. Rosa said The Citadel is investigating the Snapchat post, with vulgar and racist comments on a photo of a person wearing a Citadel T-shirt.


The man in the photo appears identical to a man who identifies himself on Facebook as a member of the Citadel class of 2019, according to abcnews4.com.


Citadel spokesman Col. John L. Dorrian confirmed that the person is a current Citadel cadet, postandcourier.com reported, but said he could not give the cadet’s name because of federal student privacy laws.


The post begins with a vulgarity, followed by a derogatory term for a black person, saying that person “just stole my friend’s bike, who lent it to me to go rock climbing dt. Sorry to sound racist, just really pissed rn.”


Rosa quickly criticized and attempted to distance The Citadel from the social media post.


“This morning I became aware of a disturbing social media post, which included abhorrent racist statements. These statements represent the exact opposite of The Citadel’s core values of Honor, Duty and Respect that we teach and expect from the entire Citadel family,’ Rosa said in a statement.


He added that “The Citadel’s leadership team is investigating this incident and is taking appropriate action in accordance with the college’s rules and regulations.”


The Citadel isn’t too far removed from another incident involving race and cadets.


In 2015, online photos surfaced showing cadets with pillowcases over their heads similar to Ku Klux Klan robes.


In all, 14 cadets were dismissed, suspended or received on-campus punishments as part of the fallout from that incident.


The Citadel later said the incident was related to a Christmas skit based on the song “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” which references scary ghost stories.


The college said the students were dressed as ghosts, and did not intend to offend anyone, and the song sheets they were using contained only the words to carols and nothing offensive.


—The State (Columbia, S.C.)


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