The House of Representatives voted 239-176 Wednesday against raising the debt ceiling, but President Obama can veto the action and have his request approved.

Last week, Obama asked for a $1.2 trillion increase as part of the deal reached in August when the U.S. came within hours of reaching its borrowing limit. Congress agreed to an initial $400 billion increase, followed by automatic hikes of $500 billion and now $1.2 trillion.

According to the Treasury Department, Obama could only ask for the latest increase when the debt reached within $100 billion of the ceiling, which occurred late in December. The president delayed his request to allow Congress time to organize its votes after the recess.

The House resolution approved Wednesday will likely not pass the Senate. Should it fail or the president vetoes it, the debt ceiling will grow to $16.4 trillion, a new high.

The debt debate, which brought the country to a crisis point last fall will likely rage throughout the 2012 elections. Republicans rejected tax increases Democrats wanted to tie to a series of spending cuts.

As part of the agreement, a super committee was formed to find $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions. But again the stalemate outlasted any attempts to compromise. The committee failed to make any proposal, triggering automatic and deeper cuts later.

Citing the political turmoil threatening the country’s ability to manage its debt, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S. AAA rating for the first time in decades.

Write to Jon Prior.

Follow him on Twitter @JonAPrior.

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