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U.S. House Opposes Debt Limit Rise in Symbolic Appeal to Voters

The U.S. House voted to oppose an increase in the nation’s debt limit, a symbolic move that probably is the first in a series of election-year actions aimed primarily at wooing voters in November.

Passing the House on a 239-176 tally yesterday was a resolution rejecting President Barack Obama’s request to raise the legal cap on borrowing by $1.2 trillion. The vote won’t prevent an increase in borrowing because Congress last year gave Obama the power to lift the debt ceiling on his own. The vote instead gave House Republicans a chance to blame the administration for the rise in government’s debt.

“How dare this president come back for another increase in the nation’s debt,” said Representative Jeff Duncan, a South Carolina Republican.

Democrats, as well as some Republicans, scoffed at the vote as little more than political theater.

“Can we please drop the pious baloney?” said Representative John Yarmuth, a Kentucky Democrat.

“What exactly are we doing here?” said Representative Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat. “We could be talking about creating jobs for the middle class. We could be talking about a payroll-tax extension,” and “instead we’re here playing this game of kabuki theater.”

Unpopular Vote

The measure now heads to the Senate where it will probably be killed by Democrats who control the chamber. That will clear the way for Obama to lift the debt cap to $16.394 trillion, which the administration estimates would be enough to accommodate borrowing until late this year.

Congress typically must endorse each increase in the U.S. debt limit, among the most unpopular votes lawmakers face. As part of an accord reached last August as the nation was on the brink of default, lawmakers agreed to let Obama raise the ceiling without congressional approval required for it to take effect.

Yesterday, 233 Republicans and six Democrats voted to oppose a debt-limit increase. Many of the Republicans who were against last year’s agreement called the vote a sham.

Republican presidential contender Ron Paul, a representative from Texas, interrupted his campaign to return to the Capitol to vote against the increase. He said the vote was a “farce” because “to allow the president to, essentially, by himself, raise the national debt is just a cop-out” by lawmakers.

Representative Dan Burton, an Indiana Republican, said, “We gave the president carte blanche and its dead wrong.”

‘Beat Our Chests’

Representative Mick Mulvaney, a South Carolina Republican, said he is “bothered by the fact that we’re going to get up and beat our chests and say that we’re voting not to raise the debt ceiling when really we did back in August. I think people will see through that.”

Similar battles are likely in the coming months because many lawmakers say that tax-and-spending issues that have bollixed Congress for more than a year will continue to elude resolution before the November elections. So they say they will focus instead on highlighting for voters their parties’ election-year priorities.

Next up will be Obama’s budget request, due Feb. 6, as well as lawmakers’ own tax-and-spending plans.

An exception may be legislation needed to extend a payroll tax cut set to expire at the end of February. Still, lawmakers negotiating the issue remain far apart on how to finance its roughly $150 billion cost.

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