Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill likened Republicans who are trying to block raising the federal debt ceiling to terrorists.

"I think the people who threaten not to pass the debt ceiling are our version of al-Qaeda terrorists," O’Neill said in an interview Wednesday on Bloomberg Television’s InBusiness With Margaret Brennan. "They’re really putting our whole society at risk by threatening to round up 50 percent of the members of Congress -- who are loony -- who would put our credit at risk."

O'Neill was George W. Bush’s first Treasury secretary.

Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said the House may refuse to vote on raising the debt limit, which could force the United States into default in the next few months -- potentially inciting an economic calamity.

Economists have warned of a catastrophe if the United States fails to meets its obligations -- a collapse in the financial markets, massive layoffs due to a plunge in consumer demand and a possible depression.

"The Congress needs to be responsible and adult and take action," O’Neill said. "This is not about permitting spending in the future. This is permitting us to pay the bills we’ve already incurred. This whole conversation is irresponsible."

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner warned this month that the U.S. would likely reach its $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by May 16, and have "no headroom" to borrow by July 8 even under extraordinary measures if Congress fails to increase the limit.

With prior reporting by Sahil Kapur

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons