updated 4/11/2011 3:06:35 PM ET 2011-04-11T19:06:35

The White House said Monday that President Barack Obama regrets his vote as a senator in 2006 against raising the debt limit — a vote he's now pressuring Congress to take.

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Obama "thinks it was a mistake," presidential spokesman Jay Carney told reporters. "He realizes now that raising the debt ceiling is so important to the health of this economy and the global economy that it is not a vote that, even when you are protesting an administration's policies, you can play around with."

The country will reach the current debt limit of $14.3 trillion by May 16. If Congress doesn't raise it, the government would not be able to make debt payments, leading to an unprecedented default of the national debt and driving up borrowing costs for the government, U.S. companies and consumers, the Treasury Department warns.

Republicans who control the House are threatening to withhold their votes to increase the debt ceiling unless Obama agrees to major spending cuts. That's setting up a clash that could overshadow the budget fight that nearly resulted in a government shutdown before a last-minute deal was struck Friday night.

First Thoughts: Bigger budget battles ahead

Carney said Monday that Obama wants Congress to send him a debt limit bill that doesn't include spending cuts or other budget items. But he stopped short of saying Obama would veto the legislation if Congress didn't comply.

Video: Exactly what is this  debt ceiling?

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said there's no chance Republicans will agree to increase the debt limit unless the White House makes major concessions on spending at the same time.

Congress is forced to increase the debt limit every several years and it's often a political fight with members of the minority party withholding their votes to extract concessions or direct criticism at the party that controls the White House.

'America has a debt problem'
That was the case in 2006 when Republican George W. Bush was president and Obama, a freshman senator from Illinois, declared on the Senate floor: "The fact that we are here today to debate raising America's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. ... Increasing America's debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that 'the buck stops here.' Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem."

Today similar arguments are heard from Republicans.

Story: GOP presidential field sees budget wars from afar

"The president has asked us to increase the debt limit, in other words to increase the limit on the credit card, without doing anything about the source of the problem. And we've got to deal with the source of the problem," Boehner said Monday on Fox News Channel.

Story: White House: Obama to lay out spending plan

Carney didn't disavow Obama's comments from 2006. But he said the president understands now that "when you're in the legislature, when you're in the Senate, you want to make clear your position if you don't agree with the policies of the administration. But there are many other ways to do it."

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Video: More budget head-butting inside the Beltway

  1. Closed captioning of: More budget head-butting inside the Beltway

    >> back in the u.s., the government shutdown over the budget may have been shut down at the last moment, but not long after that, washington started aurlging over the next thing, the federal debt ceiling which is once again approaching fast. savannah guthrie is with us tonight from the white house . and savannah, literally, the shouting had just stopped about one issue, which i assume will be cleared up before the next one started.

    >> and this fight, brian, promises to be even tougher. the stakes are even higher, as you mentioned, in a few weeks, the u.s. will reach its debt limit. that's the maximum amount the u.s. can borrow. congress will have to raise the debt ceiling. if it does not, the u.s. would default on their loans. some said we would hit recessions. this year, some republicans are saying they won't vote to cut spending unless there's white house cutting along with it. some say it's wrong to use that as leverage.

    >> the consequence tz of failing to raise the debt ceiling would be armageddon like. it would be devastating.

    >> well, as the administration makes this argument, it has one political problem. back in 2006 , then senator barack obama voted against raising the debt ceiling. that's a vote his spokesman said was a mistake.

    >> savannah guthrie back at the white house on a monday. we turn back overseas for a moment. it's now been


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