By Gary Weckselblatt
House Republicans hoped to prove a point Tuesday night, voting against increasing the nation's debt limit without an agreement on significant spending cuts.
Congressmen Mike Fitzpatrick and Charlie Dent both voted against the measure, which would have raised the amount of red ink federal lawmakers could run up by $2.4 trillion.
That number would likely carry the federal government through the November 2012 election, when the debt is expected to top $16 trillion.
The two Republicans, Fitzpatrick of the 8th District and Dent of the 15th, said without large cuts and caps to limit future increases, they will not agree to adding onto the country's $14.3 trillion tab.
"If Washington politicians expect the American people to pay for their reckless spending and enormous debt, they should expect the federal government to cut up its credit card," Fitzpatrick said. "We cannot continue to pass along a staggering national debt to our children and grandchildren."
He said every American owes a $45,500 share of the national debt.
Dent said the vote "makes a statement and certainly lays down a marker that if the debt ceiling increases there must be corresponding spending cuts, controls and caps.
"Many of us have recommended that for every dollar increased in the debt limit there should be at least $1 in spending cuts. That's been the objective. I think that's a reasonable approach."
Fitzpatrick noted that the Republican budget that passed the House with his support would cut more than $4 trillion over the next decade.
A vote to increase the debt limit is often seen as routine. However, in the current political climate, with the government set to run an annual deficit of more than $1 trillion for the third year in a row, GOP lawmakers are wary of allowing increased spending.
"One hundred freshman were elected last November on the promise to control spending," said Fitzpatrick, who added he would only support a rise in the debt limit if it is partnered with "cuts significant enough to put the federal government on a path to a balanced budget."
The vote took place well after the close of U.S. financial markets. Nervous investors are seeking reassurances that there won't be a first-time, market-rattling default on U.S. bonds that would erode the United States' AAA bond rating.
The federal government reached its statutory debt ceiling two weeks ago, although the Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has indicated it can extend its borrowing authority into early August.
Democrats, like Geithner and Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont, called for a so-called clean increase in the debt limit.
The No. 2 Democrat in the House, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, said Republican leaders held the vote to give GOP lawmakers "cover" in advance of the real vote this summer -- a chance to record a "no" vote before facing the must-pass measure.
Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz of the 13th District was out of town following the death of her father and missed the vote.
"Republicans are playing with fire by voting against an extension of the debt limit today. I hope that the markets understand a political stunt when they see one," said Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y. "Because, to much of the world, putting the full faith and credit of our nation at risk understandably seems like playing Russian roulette."
Dent said "we all undertstand that this government has to function and we will never allow the United States to default. But at the same time we have to make sure the issues driving our national debt and deficit are addressed as part of the debt ceiling vote."