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Washington Beat: Revisited Debt Ceiling Debate Could Turn Ugly In Congress

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Congress may have averted its so-called fiscal cliff, but federal lawmakers are bracing for another struggle over the country's debt ceiling. NY1's Washington reporter Erin Billups filed the following report.

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, a senior fellow of the Brookings Institution.

The United States 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 15.

So President Barack Obama 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," Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Republican, said on Sunday.

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

"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?" Binder said. "That's not something to be played lightly with."

Obama said he will not 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," White House Spokesman Jay Carney said.

The president, though, 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," Binder said. "I think he just doesn't want to pay a price, a direct price for it."

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.

It is unknown whether both issues can be squared away without a down-to-the-wire fight.

"We should start talking about it next week when we go back to Washington instead of 10 days before we fall off another cliff," said Sen. Charles Schumer.

Washington lawmakers will also have to vote on a "continuing resolution" at the end of March, which funds the government in the absence of a budget.

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