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House to take largely symbolic vote on debt ceiling

The vote, one in a series built into last summer's congressional deal, is expected to die in the Senate. President Obama will then have enough borrowing authority to pay the nation's bills through the November election.

January 16, 2012|By Lisa Mascaro, Washington Bureau
  • Rep. Randy Hultgren planned to oppose the increase in the debt ceiling.
Rep. Randy Hultgren planned to oppose the increase in the debt ceiling. (Brendan Hoffman / Chicago…)

Reporting from Washington — As President Obama campaigns for reelection against a Congress he portrays as do-nothing, the House returns to a workload this week that could reinforce his contention: It includes a largely symbolic vote to deny his request to raise the national debt ceiling.

One of the first orders of business is a vote Wednesday in the Republican-led House on whether to allow the administration additional borrowing authority. A similar vote is expected later in the Senate.

But gone are the threats of a federal default that once surrounded the debt ceiling debate. This week's action is not expected to stop the nation from taking on more debt to pay its bills. That would require both chambers of Congress to reject the authority by a veto-proof margin, or for the president to sign their rejection of his authority — both unlikely scenarios.

Rather, the votes were built into last summer's debt ceiling deal to give lawmakers an opportunity to voice their displeasure with the nation's $15-trillion debt load, without stopping the Treasury Department from paying obligations.

"The president has come to Congress once again asking us to raise the nation's debt ceiling, his administration's reckless spending having made that necessary," said Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.), who planned to oppose the increase. He intended to "send a clear message that we do not condone the president's wasteful fiscal policies of so-called stimulus, bailouts and ever-larger government."

Under last summer's deal, Congress agreed to raise what was then a $14.3-trillion debt limit by more than $2 trillion in exchange for commensurate spending cuts in the federal budget. The first round of cuts was made, and another round was designed to kick in by January 2013.

The president had to request the higher debt limit in three separate increments, however, and this is his final one. Congress agreed to a series of votes on the requests that would force lawmakers to repeatedly go on record on the issue of additional debt authority. Although the rejection is likely to pass the House on Wednesday, it is expected to stall later in the Democratic-run Senate.

The vote comes as Republican leaders hope to turn the page from last year's bitter legislative battles. The tea party wing of the party fueled an unprecedented level of brinkmanship that left Congress with some of its lowest public approval ratings ever.

Infighting among the GOP persists, but some conservative lawmakers take issue with this week's protest vote, saying Congress is taking the easy way out and shirking its responsibility to cut spending.

"Anyone who supported this deal back in August but then votes to oppose the debt limit increase this upcoming week should take no credit for standing against reckless spending," said Republican Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a conservative freshman from Kansas. "The real opportunity to stand for fiscal responsibility was in August."

The upcoming votes are expected to be the last on the debt ceiling for some time. Obama would get enough borrowing authority to pay the nation's bills through the November election — essentially blunting the GOP's ability to leverage the issue for other party priorities during the campaign.

lisa.mascaro@latimes.com

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