The Republican-controlled House of Representatives has voted to reject a bill to raise the United States' statutory debt limit by some $2 trillion. The vote would have raised the debt ceiling without any government spending cuts, which are now supported by both major political parties, in a move Democrats described as "political theater."
Democrats and Republicans have been battling for months in Congress over the U.S. federal budget and over how to get the spiraling national debt under control. U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says the government reached its current $14 trillion debt limit in May, but that he is using bookkeeping procedures to give Congress until August to pass legislation to prevent the United States from defaulting on its debt obligations.
With two months to go until the August deadline, Republican House leaders held a vote Tuesday on a measure that they introduced but also wanted to be defeated - a "clean" bill that would raise the debt ceiling without any spending cuts. The vote was 318 against, 97 in favor, and seven lawmakers voted present.
Republican Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp urged members of his party to vote "no" on the bill, and they all did. "Today we are making clear that Republicans will not accept an increase in our nation's debt limit without substantial spending cuts and real budgetary reforms," he said.
Democratic lawmakers accused Republicans of holding the vote as a political stunt to make Democrats go on the record of voting to raise the debt ceiling without cuts in government spending. Democratic Congressman Sander Levin of Michigan said Republicans had had to warn financial leaders on Wall Street that this vote is not serious, but jut fodder for the 2012 elections.
"Bringing up this bill in this fashion is a ploy so egregious, the Republicans have had to spend the last week pleading with Wall Street not to take it seriously, and risk our economic recovery," he said.
President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats agree that action needs to be taken to reduce the federal budget deficit, but they caution that the U.S. economy is in the process of a fragile recovery. While Republicans are calling for deep and immediate spending cuts worth trillions of dollars, Democrats favor spending cuts or tax increases over several years to lower the deficit. Republicans say that raising taxes is not an option.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that the president and many lawmakers from both parties realize that raising the cebt celiling is a very urgent matter.
"In terms of the debt ceiling, we also believe as members and leaders of Congress have both parties have said, that is has to be raised because the fact of defaulting on our obligations as the United States of America would be calamitous to the domestic economy and the global economy," Carney said.
Vice President Joe Biden is leading negotiations with Congressional leaders on winning Republican votes to raise the debt ceiling by finding common grounds on ways to cut government spending. The negotiations in the coming weeks on raising the debt limit are likely to be complicated by the fact that many of the 87 new Republican House members are backed by Tea Party movement supporters who advocate limited government and deep cuts in federal spending, and who may be willing to let the August deadline expire.