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House casts a symbolic vote against lifting debt ceiling

The first in a series of largely symbolic votes to allow some lawmakers to register displeasure with the debt-ceiling deal came and went with little debate.

The votes had almost no chance of undoing the August deal to raise the nation’s debt limit by $2.4 trillion, but were built into the agreement to give members of Congress multiple chances over the next year to remind voters where they stand.

But lawmakers did not appear to want to engage in the debate.

With jobs, not the federal debt load, tops on voters’ minds, lawmakers had little interest in reviving the grueling battle. They conducted the initial round of scripted votes on autopilot.

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The Republican-led House voted Wednesday to deny President Obama the authority to raise the nation’s debt limit. That meant little because a similar resolution failed last week in the Senate. And even if both chambers of Congress had approved the measure, it faced a certain veto from the White House.

Still, some Republicans said it was important to keep the nation’s skyrocketing debt load at the forefront of the agenda.

“Dealing with this national debt is one of the primary reasons I ran for Congress,” said freshman Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), who last month voted to raise the debt ceiling but wrote Wednesday’s bill to deny the authority. “I know the battles ahead will not be popular. But we must stand up to that political pressure.”

Democrats called the votes a waste of time, particularly with 14 million Americans unemployed.

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“We should be moving forward, not backward,” said Rep. Sander M. Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee. “Republicans want to prolong the agony of the debt-ceiling debate and bring us back to the brink.”

Another vote is expected this winter.

But the votes are largely a partisan weapon: They allow Republicans to register opposition to the deal and force Democrats to repeatedly side with Obama for more debt authority to pay the nation’s bills and avoid default.

The votes, though, put some lawmakers in the awkward position of having voted to increase the debt ceiling as part of the August deal, but denying the new debt level now.

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The conflicting moves, along with the lack of partisan appetite for a robust debate, left Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) to summon the catchphrase from 1970s “Saturday Night Live” character Roseanne Roseannadanna.

“Never mind,” he said. “This is the never-mind resolution.”

Although these votes proved uneventful, Republicans noted that the next one, coming closer to next year’s election, may not come and go so quietly.

lisa.mascaro@latimes.com


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