In its first real bit of business to mark the new year, the House passed a symbolic Republican measure against President Obama's request to increase the federal debt limit by $1.2 trillion.
Last summer's bipartisan debt and budget agreement allowed the White House to automatically raise the debt ceiling 15 days after the president officially notifies lawmakers that the government is close to the current $15.2 trillion cap. The administration's request can be halted if both chambers of Congress agree.
The measure opposing raising the debt limit passed 239 to 176, largely along partisan lines. Six Democrats supported the measure, and only one Republican — House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier of California — rejected it. Two Republicans voted "present."
But the measure is dead on arrival in the Democrat-run Senate. And even if it somehow clears both chambers, Mr. Obama would almost certainly veto it.
Republicans said the vote was important to show that Democratic spending has pushed the federal debt to a dangerously high level.
"House Republicans once again rejected the Obama administration's pursuit to continue its reckless spending binge and reaffirmed our commitment to fiscal responsibility," said Rep. Pete Sessions, Texas Republican. "Since President Obama took office, our national debt has increased by $4.6 trillion and is now greater than the value of our entire economy.
"Clearly, we cannot borrow and spend our way to economic prosperity."
The federal debt has jumped from $10.6 trillion to $15.2 trillion during Mr. Obama's term in office.
But House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, called the vote "political gamesmanship" that "does nothing to reduce the debt or create jobs."
He added the president is not largely to blame for the debt, saying Mr. Obama inherited a sour economy from President George W. Bush. Compounding the problem were the prior administration's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, tax cuts for the wealthy and an unpaid-for prescription drug plan, he said.
"The resolution before us today is simply another waste of time," Mr. Hoyer said. "More than that, it undermines confidence [of the U.S. government] here and around the world."
The hard-fought Budget Control Act passed by Congress in early August allows the debt limit to be raised by up to $2.1 trillion in exchange for spending cuts to be spread out over 10 years.
As part of the compromise, a debt supercommittee was tasked to identify $1.5 trillion in savings or new tax revenue. But the group failed to met its November deadline, which has triggered $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts to defense and domestic programs that will take effect beginning in 2013 unless Congress can halt them.
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