(Updates with 2 Republicans voting present in 10th paragraph.)
Jan. 18 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. House approved a symbolic measure opposing an increase in the nation’s debt limit in what will probably be the first in a series of election-year votes aimed primarily at wooing those headed for the polls in November.
Lawmakers voted 239-176 for 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, though, because Congress last year gave Obama the power to lift the debt ceiling on his own.
Today’s vote instead gave House Republicans a chance to blame the administration for the rise in government red ink.
“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 a minority of 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.”
Congress typically must endorse each increase in the U.S. debt limit, among the most unpopular votes lawmakers face. As part of last year’s agreement, 174 Republicans voted to let Obama raise the ceiling in exchange for excusing them from having to vote for it.
Today, 233 Republicans and six Democrats voted to oppose a debt-limit increase. Many of the Republicans who opposed last year’s agreement called today’s vote a sham.
Two Republicans, Joe Walsh of Illinois and Jeff Landry of Louisiana, voted present, saying the measure is designed to provide political cover for colleagues who backed last year’s debt deal. “I refuse to partake in these Washington games,” Landry said in a statement.
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 is nevertheless 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 they probably won’t resolve before the November elections the tax-and-spending issues that have bollixed Congress for more than a year.
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 plan.
An exception may be legislation needed to extend a payroll tax cut set to expire at the end of February, though lawmakers are currently far apart on how to finance its roughly $150 billion cost.
--Editors: Jodi Schneider, Jim Rubin.
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