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Lawmakers debate debt ceiling

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Albany/HV: Lawmakers debate debt ceiling
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After reaching a deal to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, it's crunch time for Congress to work on another looming deadline. Erin Billups has more on negotiations over the nation's debt ceiling.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The U.S. Treasury has taken "extraordinary measures" to keep the government running. It's now operating through $200 billion in emergency borrowing authority.

"The government has hit that allowable limit of borrowing," said Sarah Binder, Brookings Institution Senior Fellow.

The U.S. reached that limit on New Year's Eve. According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, the government will be unable to pay all of its bills by as early as February 15th.
So the president will need Congress to raise that debt limit, something Republicans say they will not do without getting spending cuts in return.

"I want to raise the debt ceiling, but I will not do it without a plan to get out of debt," South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said.

It's shaking up to be a repeat of the 2011 debt ceiling fight which led to U.S. credit being downgraded, something experts like Binder says lawmakers should do their best to avoid.

Binder said, "Many people disagree that the debt ceiling is the way to make those changes. Why not make them over entitlements themselves as opposed to taking hostage this ceiling that essentially puts at risk the government to default? That's not something to be played lightly with."

President Obama has said he won't engage in another debate over the debt ceiling.

"The president expects that Congress will fulfill its essential responsibility to pay the bills that Congress has incurred," said White House Spokesman Jay Carney.

But Obama may not be able to avoid the fight.

"In reality, yes, he has to grapple with Congress and the question of how it's going to be raised. I think he just doesn't want to pay a price, a direct price for it," Binder said.

And right after the debt limit is addressed, lawmakers will then have to find a way to solve the issue of $110 billion in delayed automatic cuts to defense and non-defense spending in March. Whether both issues can be squared away without a down to the wire fight, we'll have to wait and see.

"We should start talking about it next week when we go back to Washington instead of ten days before we fall off another cliff," New York Senator Charles Schumer said.

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