The House on Wednesday is kicking off another session under GOP control by staging a politically-fueled vote against raising the government's borrowing cap by $1.2 trillion as permitted under last summer's bipartisan debt and budget pact.
Under that law, supported by all of the top GOP leaders on Capitol Hill, the debt limit is automatically raised 15 days after the president officially notifies lawmakers that the government is close to the current $15.2 trillion cap _ unless Congress votes to deny the borrowing increase.
Wednesday's measure to block the debt increase is expected to pass the House easily. But it's a dead issue in the Senate, and Obama's veto power serves as a final guarantee that the increase will go through as intended and that the nation won't face another debt crisis like last summer.
The political dance was designed to permit lawmakers, mostly Republicans, to vote against the debt increase but not actually block it, which would provoke a first-ever, market-rattling default on U.S. government obligations.
Republicans are seizing the measure as an opportunity to highlight the record deficits racked up during Obama's first term in the White House.
"This resolution keeps the government's spending problem in the forefront of our conversation and demonstrates that we in the House are committed to ending the decades-old borrowing and spending mentality in Washington," said Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y. "Many want this issue swept under the rug until after Election Day. We will not let that happen."
But Democrats say the whole exercise is little more than political theater.
"If it were to pass and to be signed by the president, everybody, I presume, understands it would be a very negative thing to happen," said Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House.
Last year's debt agreement permits a total debt limit increase of $2.1 trillion in exchange for an equivalent amount in spending cuts, which would be spread out over the coming decade. The first $900 billion comes from caps on the day-to-day operations of federal agencies.