Republicans have argued the debt ceiling should not be raised unless there are corresponding cuts in government spending.

Reid did not respond to McConnell's comparison; he agreed that spending needs to be brought down but assailed Republicans' plan to do so as embodied in their 2012 budget proposal.

"They want to go after entitlements," accused Reid. "The Ryan budget has a lot of ways to save money and one of those ways is by destroying Medicare."

The Treasury Department said Monday it has extended the deadline for raising the federal debt ceiling to Aug. 2 and will use extraordinary maneuvers to keep the U.S. out of default in anticipation of Congress not raising the debt ceiling before it is breached on May 16. 

On Wednesday, McConnell signaled in a floor speech that Republicans would only vote to lift the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling in exchange for deep and permanent cuts in government spending.