GOP engaging in 'kamikaze politics' on debt limit, Dems say

House Democrats Wednesday accused Republicans of engaging in "kamikaze politics" by demanding major spending reforms in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.

Instead, the coalition of 46 Democrats is calling on lawmakers to have a "clean" vote on raising the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, free of any other proposals.

"We cannot play this kamikaze politics that can lead to an economic Chernobyl," said Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.). "We have to pay our bills."

The Treasury Department expects the government will hit its borrowing limit by May 16, and says the nation would default on its debt for the first time in American history around July 8 if the limit is not raised.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has also told Congress the ceiling should be raised free of other provisions, but Republicans say their support will be contingent upon whether any increase also comes with major spending reforms.

Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) said the GOP was "holding the economy hostage" by making such demands.

"We're playing with fire here," he added.

Several Democrats acknowledged that in the past they had opposed other hikes to the debt ceiling. President Obama voted against a debt limit increase when he was a senator, a vote he now says was a mistake. 

But the House Democrats maintained that the stakes were higher this time, given America's ongoing economic recovery and its status as an international economic power.

"In my lifetime, I've played a lot of budget games, and I probably have voted for and against the debt ceiling limit," said Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.). "But I think we're at a very crucial moment in our economy, and frankly an even more crucial moment in the world spotlight."

"We're willing to empower the grownups in the Republican caucus" to vote to increase the limit, added Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.). "We're willing to take a tough vote for the sake of our economy."

Meanwhile, Republican leaders said Wednesday that the president told them he would accept debt-ceiling legislation that included other provisions.