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Debt Limit Goes Down

Tom Williams/Roll Call

House Republicans made a show of voting down a standalone debt limit increase Tuesday, but the failure of the measure will have no effect on ongoing bipartisan negotiations led by Vice President Joseph Biden.

In fact, Republicans and Democrats are no closer to a deal on the amount of spending cuts they insist should be coupled with an increased debt ceiling. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has estimated the debt limit must be raised by Aug. 2 to avoid a default on the government's obligations.

The measure to raise the debt limit by more than $2 trillion failed 97-318, with only Democrats supporting it.

The vote instead served a more political purpose, with Republicans hammering Democrats for being unwilling to make significant spending cuts, while Democrats argued the vote was a sham because it was set up to fail.

Still, House Republicans said the vote was important because it sends a clear signal to President Barack Obama that there is no appetite in Congress to move forward without significant spending cuts. The timing of the vote appeared to be calculated to occur just before today's House Republican Conference meeting with Obama the first time the president has met with all the House GOP Members since the midterm election.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor's (R-Va.) spokeswoman Laena Fallon said her boss put the measure on the floor at the Democrats' behest.

"Tonight's vote comes at the demand of Secretary Geithner and 110+ House Democrats who want us to blindly raise the debt limit without cutting spending and continuing to max out the credit card," Fallon said Tuesday in an email.

For Republicans, the vote also serves the purpose of demonstrating their tea party bona fides.

GOP leaders had toyed with the idea of moving ahead with a clean debt limit vote a few weeks ago, but they pushed it off as bipartisan talks continued. The leaders, who were also concerned the vote would disrupt financial markets, worked with Wall Street executives to ensure the impact of a political vote would not cause economic turmoil. Cantor went so far as to schedule the vote Tuesday evening after markets had closed.

Leaders were reticent to create a situation similar to the September 2008 vote during which the House first defeated the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, which triggered the largest one-day decrease in stock prices.

One GOP leadership aide predicted the measure would not have any Republican support because it didn't include significant spending cuts and reforms.

The bill also was rejected by Democrats, but for different reasons.

House Democrats moved aggressively to characterize the vote as a political ploy.

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