White House delays $1.2T debt hike to give time for votes in Congress

The White House has agreed to hold off on formally requesting a $1.2 trillion increase in the debt limit to give Congress time to vote on it.

The Obama administration had said the Treasury Department could formally request the debt increase as soon as Friday. Officials say the federal debt is nearing the maximum permitted under the law. 

But after leaders in the House and Senate asked for more time, the administration agreed to delay the request to give time Congress to vote on it after returning from the holiday recess. 

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"The Treasury Department expects that the debt will be within $100 billion of the limit by the close of business today, and therefore we had anticipated submitting a certification to Congress later today," Josh Earnest, the White House's deputy press secretary, said Friday. 

"However, we have been asked by bicameral leadership of Congress to delay certification in order to give both houses time to consider when votes may occur, given the current Congressional schedule," he said.

House Republicans will likely line up in largely symbolic opposition to another upcoming hike to the debt limit as one of their first actions in 2012.

The exact timing of the request is still unknown, but the delay gives members time to return from their holiday break and vote on whether to try and block the increase.

The vote could come as early as Jan. 17, after lawmakers return to begin the second session of the 112th Congress. 

Under the debt-limit deal struck in August that will keep the government solvent through the 2012 elections, the president must formally request two times to increase the debt limit when the government comes within $100 billion of the current ceiling. 

Fifteen days after the request is submitted, the increase automatically takes effect unless Congress votes to disapprove of it. However, even if Congress were to pass such a measure, the president can veto it.

The president first request for a $500 billion boost to the ceiling came in September. While the House passed a measure of disapproval due to en masse Republican opposition to the hike, a similar bill failed in the Senate, where Democrats retain a majority.