Even a short delay in making payments on the nation's debt would cause severe disruptions in financial markets, damage the dollar and raise serious doubts about the nation's creditworthiness, Bernanke said.
It wasn't Bernanke's first warning to Republicans, who are vowing to block an increase that doesn't include a deal to slash government spending by the same amount. But it was his most explicit in terms of the consequences.
The nation reached its $14.3 trillion borrowing limit in May. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has said that the U.S. could default on its debt if it doesn't raise the limit by Aug. 2. The debt limit is the amount the government can borrow to help finance its operations.