J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, accompanied by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012, as the House returned to work from its winter recess.
WASHINGTON — In a debate laced with politics, the GOP-controlled House on Wednesday kicked off another session by slating a futile vote against raising the government's borrowing cap by $1.2 trillion as permitted under last summer's bipartisan debt and budget pact.
Under that debt increase law, supported by all of the top GOP leaders on Capitol Hill, the debt limit is automatically raised 15 days after the president officially notifies lawmakers that the government is close to the current $15.2 trillion cap — unless Congress votes to deny the borrowing increase.
Wednesday's measure to block the debt increase is expected to pass the House easily. But it's a dead issue in the Democratic-controlled Senate, and Obama's veto power serves as a final guarantee that the increase will go through as intended and that the nation won't face another debt crisis like last summer.
The political dance choreographed under last summer's Budget Control Act was designed to permit lawmakers, mostly Republicans, to vote against the debt increase but not actually block it, which would provoke a first-ever, market-rattling default on U.S. government obligations.
The debate offered tea party-backed GOP freshmen an opportunity to cast blame on the White House and Democratically-controlled Senate for the nation's fiscal ills. The national debt has skyrocketed during Obama's first term — from $10.6 trillion on Inauguration Day to $15.2 trillion today. Much of the blame lies with the deep recession Obama inherited, which made revenues plummet, but almost $1 trillion of the increase can be attributed to Obama's 2009 deficit-financed economic stimulus bill.
"Instead of giving the President more power to spend money we do not have, Congress should work together to find ways to cut spending and put America back on a path to fiscal responsibility," said Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C.
Democrat Jared Polis of Colorado said that even under last year's nonbinding House GOP budget plan, the national debt would have risen by more than $5 trillion over the coming decade anyway. And he pointed out that the new borrowing authority is needed to pay for a $1 trillion-plus omnibus spending bill that many Republicans supported just last month.
"We're here playing a counter-productive and absurd game," Polis said.
Even one GOP veteran said Wednesday's debate was a futile exercise, given how the August debt pact intentionally stacked the cards in Obama's favor.
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"We have in effect given the President of the United States the ability to raise the debt ceiling without us not having any control whatsoever," said veteran Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind. "We gave the president carte blanche and it's dead wrong."
The House passed a similar resolution in September after Obama used his authority to raise the debt cap by $500 billion.
Last year's debt agreement permits a total debt limit increase of $2.1 trillion in exchange for an equivalent amount in spending cuts, which would be spread out over the coming decade. The first $900 billion comes from caps on the day-to-day operations of federal agencies.