(CNN) – The eleventh-hour compromise that avoided the fiscal cliff cannot be repeated when it comes time to raise the nation's debt ceiling, top lawmakers agreed Sunday.
But whether Republicans and Democrats can agree on how to raise the debt ceiling - specifically, whether or not to pair the increase with spending cuts - remains to be seen.
Speaking on CNN, Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said spending cuts and tax reform are needed as part of a balanced plan to further reduce the federal deficit, but that linking them to a routine increase in the debt ceiling was a perilous proposal from Republicans.
"The debt ceiling is something that we should put behind us in a hurry," Durbin told CNN chief political correspondent Candy Crowley on "State of the Union."
The country's borrowing has actually already passed its legal limit - currently $16.394 trillion. As a result, the Treasury can't borrow any more money in the markets, so it has begun to use "extraordinary measures" to ensure that the government can continue to pay all its bills in full and on time. But those measures can only buy about two months' grace.
If the ceiling isn't raised by late February or early March, the United States runs the risk of defaulting on its obligations, because the Treasury would no longer have enough money available to pay all the country's bills.
Republicans' vow to demand spending cuts in an amount equal to the debt limit increase "sounds like a bargain," Durbin said, but he added that it placed a caveat on negotiations that could lead to the nation defaulting on its debt.
"What I'm saying is the president should not have one of these last-minute showdowns over the debt ceiling, but we should speak in honest and I think complete terms about dealing with this deficit," Durbin said. "It truly is a challenge we haven't faced as much as we should."
Durbin's colleague, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, said he, too, was opposed to a last-minute vote to increase the nation's debt limit. Such an eleventh-hour deal was struck in August 2011 to raise the ceiling the last time the nation's debt reached its limit. The political haggling that put the country at the edge of default resulted in a credit downgrade from the ratings agency Standard & Poor's.
"In terms of the debt ceiling debate, the rank and file in my conference have had it with last-minute deals where you can't read the bill before the ink gets dry," Graham said, also on "State of the Union." "We've got to do better in the future than we've done in the past. This doing things at the last minute behind closed doors must stop."
But without spending cuts attached to the increase, Graham said he couldn't support the debt limit increase, no matter the urgency.
"I believe we need to raise the debt ceiling, but if we don't raise it without a plan to get out of debt, all of us should be fired," Graham said.
"If you raise the debt ceiling by a dollar, you should cut spending by a dollar. That is the way to go forward," he added.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic minority leader in the House of Representatives, said it didn't make sense to link spending with increasing the debt limit, since the debt had already been incurred.
"You're going to say, 'I'm not going to pay my bills unless you stop buying stuff?'" she wondered on CBS' "Face the Nation."
"Right now we have to pay the bills that have been incurred," she said. "If you want to say cut spending for what we do next, fine. But don't tie it to the debt ceiling."
CNNMoney's Jeanne Sahadi contributed to this report.
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