Washington (AP) - As the White House presses Congress "not to play chicken" with a vote to raise the nation's debt ceiling, President Barack Obama says his vote as a senator in 2006 against raising the debt cap was a mistake motivated by politics.
"Nobody likes to be tagged as having increased the debt limit for the United States by a trillion dollars," Obama said.
It's Republicans who are now threatening to withhold their support for raising the limit. As a result, Obama says Senate Democrats will have to carry the burden of an unpopular vote when Congress votes on whether to lift the limit sometime during the next three months.
The U.S. will hit its debt limit of $14.3 trillion by May 16. The government could be thrown into default if Congress doesn't raise the limit by early July.
Five years ago, Senate Democrats -- including Obama -- objected to President George W. Bush's spending priorities and voted en bloc against Bush's call for raising the debt ceiling. Obama told ABC News on Thursday that no senator likes to be tagged as voting to increase the debt limit. But as president, he says he has a different perspective on the consequences.
"That was just an example of a new senator, you know, making what is a political vote as opposed to doing what was important for the country," Obama said. "And I'm the first one to acknowledge it."
Obama's concession came on the same day that his budget director, Jacob Lew, warned that Congress should not link deficit reduction efforts to the debt ceiling vote. "Nobody should be playing chicken with the debt limit," Lew said Thursday. "We should get it done. We should get it done soon, early, and get it out of the way."
White House officials on Thursday sought to separate the debt ceiling vote from a plan Obama offered Wednesday to reduce long term deficit by $4 trillion in 12 years. The plan calls for tax increases that yield about $1 trillion in revenue and reductions in spending in defense as well as safety net programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
Lew and White House spokesman Jay Carney lowered expectations set by Obama in a speech Wednesday when he called on congressional leaders to form a negotiating team to work with Vice President Joe Biden and deliver a final agreement by the end of June.
"These are large problems that to address all in a piece of legislation in 30 to 60 days obviously is a reach, but you can make significant progress in that time frame," Carney said.
Obama's plan also offered no changes in Social Security and on Thursday, Lew said the nation's retirement program should be addressed separately from deficit reduction plans.
"It should be parallel to these conversations, not part of them," Lew said.
Associated Press writer Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this article.