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Buffett sees risks in failing to hike debt ceiling

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett said Thursday Congress is playing a dangerous game by considering not raising the U.S. debt ceiling.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett said Thursday Congress is playing a dangerous game by considering not raising the U.S. debt ceiling.

The CEO and chairman of the conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway Inc. said on the cable TV network CNBC that there is no way to tell what might happen if the debt limit is not increased, but it's a dangerous idea.

Buffett compared the debate over raising the debt limit to a game of "Russian roulette" with one bullet in a revolver.

He said refusing five times out of six to raise the debt limit might not be dangerous, but the sixth time could have catastrophic consequences.

"You're playing with fire when you don't need to play with fire," he said. Buffett was in Sun Valley, Idaho, attending the annual conference hosted by investment banker Allen & Co. that attracts Wall Street and media moguls.

Congressional leaders from both political parties are scheduled to visit the White House on Thursday to talk about cutting the deficit, so a deal can be made to raise the debt limit and avoid a first-ever default on U.S. financial commitments.

Buffett said Congress raised the debt ceiling seven times during President George W. Bush's administration, so it would be silly not to do so now. If America does run up against its debt ceiling, Buffett said the roughly $4 billion the government spends each day will be missed.

"We don't need to tell the rest of the world that anytime people in Congress start throwing a tantrum that we're not going to pay our bills," Buffett said.

Berkshire Hathaway's top executive said he believes the global economy has continued to improve slowly since the fall of 2009 based on the reports he receives from all of his Omaha-based company's subsidiaries.

"Business has been getting better consistently in nearly every area except construction," Buffett said.

But Buffett said recent efforts to help Greece avoid default have not solved Europe's financial problems. He said it's clear that Europe still has lingering problems because the bonds issued by the 17 countries that use the euro currency offer significantly different yields.

"The Greek situation and the European situation is not solved," Buffett said. "They've got real problems in Europe. That doesn't mean they can't surmount them."

He said there is a lot of work to do to save the euro because a couple countries are dragging down the rest of Europe.

Berkshire owns roughly 80 subsidiaries, including railroad, clothing, furniture and jewelry firms, but its insurance and utility businesses typically account for more than half of the company's net income. It also has major investments in such companies as Coca-Cola Co. and Wells Fargo & Co.