“The president does not have the authority to take action in that kind of a way,” Mr. Lew said on CNN’s “State of the Union” when host Candy Crowley asked if the White House could unilaterally take any action to keep the government solvent.

“The president consulted with his lawyers, and that’s the conclusion that he’s reached,” Mr. Lew, a former White House chief of staff, said.

“You know, there is a desire here for there to be some kind of a magic solution,” he said. “There is an easy solution. … A majority in Congress would do the right thing if given a chance to vote to open the government. A majority in Congress would do the right thing if given a chance to let us pay our bills. Congress needs to work, they need to do their job, but the majority needs to be given a chance.”