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Congress to vote on debt ceiling again, but without threat of a default

By Lisa Mascaro, Tribune Washington Bureau –

WASHINGTON — As President Obama campaigns against a do-nothing Congress, the House returns to a workload this week that could reinforce his contention: A largely symbolic vote to deny the president’s request to raise the national debt ceiling.

One of the first orders of business is a vote Wednesday in the Republican-led House on whether to allow the administration additional borrowing authority. A similar vote is expected later in the Senate.

But gone are the threats of a federal default that once surrounded the debt-ceiling debate. This week’s action is not expected to stop the nation from taking on more debt to pay its bills. That would require both chambers of Congress to reject the authority by a veto-proof margin, or for the president to sign their rejection of his authority — both unlikely.

Rather, the votes were built into last summer’s debt-ceiling deal to give lawmakers an opportunity to voice their displeasure with the nation’s $15-trillion debt load without stopping the Treasury Department from paying obligations.

“The president has come to Congress once again asking us to raise the nation’s debt ceiling; his administration’s reckless spending having made that necessary,” said Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Ill.

Under last summer’s deal, Congress agreed to raise what was then a $14.3 trillion debt limit by more than $2 trillion, in exchange for commensurate spending cuts in the federal budget. The first round of cuts was made, and another round is to go into effect by January 2013.

The president had to request the higher debt limit in three separate increments, however, and this is his final one. Congress agreed to a series of votes on the requests that would force members to repeatedly go on record on the issue of additional debt authority. Although the rejection is likely to pass the House Wednesday, it is expected to stall later in the Democratic-run Senate.

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