WASHINGTON -- House Republicans dealt defeat to their own proposal for a $2.4 trillion increase in the nation's debt limit Tuesday, a political gambit designed to reinforce a demand for spending cuts to accompany any increase in government borrowing.
The vote was lopsided, with just 97 in favor of the measure and 318 against.
The debate was brief, occasionally impassioned and set a standard of sorts for public theater, particularly at a time when private negotiations continue among the administration and key lawmakers on the deficit cuts Republicans have demanded.
"I consider defeating an unconditional increase to be a success, because it sends a clear and critical message that the Congress has finally recognized we must immediately begin to rein in America's affection for deficit spending," he said.
But Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), accused Republicans of a "ploy so egregious that [they] have had to spend the last week pleading with Wall Street not to take it seriously and risk our economic recovery."
He and other Democrats added that Republicans were attempting to draw attention away from their controversial plan to turn Medicare into a program in which seniors purchase private insurance coverage.
The proceedings occurred roughly two months before the date Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has said the debt limit must be raised. If no action is taken by Aug. 2, he has warned, the government could default on its obligations and risk turmoil that might plunge the nation into another recession or even an economic depression.
Republicans, who are scheduled to meet with Obama at the White House today, signaled in advance that the debt limit vote did not portend a final refusal to grant an increase.
The roll call vote was held late in the day, and there was little, if any discernible impact on Wall Street, where major exchanges showed gains for the day. At the same time, it satisfied what GOP officials said was a desire among the rank and file to vote against unpopular legislation the leadership has said eventually must pass in some form.