Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Congress must increase the federal debt limit before it is reached, but struggled to justify his own 2006 vote against it.
In an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," Reid said failing to increase the $14.3 trillion debt limit, which the administration has warned will be reached sometime this spring, is not an option.
"We can't back out on the money we owe the rest of the world," he said. "We can't do as the Gingrich crowd did a few years ago — close the government."
However, NBC's David Gregory pointed out that in 2006, Reid and President Obama both voted against an increase to the debt limit. The president was a senator from Illinois at the time. Press secretary Robert Gibbs said it was intended to make a statement and that the increase was not in danger of being voted down.
Reid, who said he voted to increase the debt limit "99 percent of time," said he could not remember that specific vote.
"I don't really know what vote you're talking about, I've cast about 15,000 votes," he said. "I'm saying today that we have to raise the debt ceiling. There's no alternative."
Reid's interview was taped before Saturday's shooting of 20 people in Tucson, Ariz., including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).