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DENVER — As he celebrated a last-minute deal by Congress Tuesday night that will help most Americans avoid a tax hike, President Obama tried to draw a line in the sand with an eye toward the next issue before lawmakers, raising the nation’s debt ceiling.

“I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills that they’ve already racked up through the laws that they passed,” Obama said.

But Republicans, having agreed to put off decisions about spending cuts, now view the looming debt ceiling as leverage — and they’re promising to use it.

“People think this was a big fight over the fiscal cliff,” Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, told FOX31 Denver Wednesday. “It wasn’t. The big fight is coming up.”

Coffman, like a majority of his House GOP colleagues, voted against the Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 on Tuesday night.

“I don’t think going over the fiscal cliff would have been a huge deal,” he continued. “Temporarily, the markets would have been aggravated until the next Congress could have passed new tax cuts and ironed things out.

“But the real big deal is what’s upon us and going past the debt limit. I have to see a way out of this, real spending cuts, before I vote to raise the debt limit.”

Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, and most House Republicans, are in the same boat, promising not to raise the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling until they can force Obama to agree to deep spending cuts for entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security.

“The House Republican caucus is united in our goal of getting this economy back on track and getting spending under control and reducing our debt and our deficit,” Gardner told FOX31 Wednesday.

Coffman praises Bennet’s vote, Gardner not so much

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, has gotten a lot of attention for voting against the fiscal cliff compromise worked out by Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Bennet was one of just four Senate Democrats who voted no.

“The entire point of this whole exercise, which has now been going on for months and months, the entire point of the fiscal cliff, the sequester, the expiration of the Bush tax cuts — all of that together was intended to force Washington to actually put our country on a sustainable fiscal path,” Bennet told FOX31 Denver on Wednesday.

“The end result here was a bill that had very little deficit reduction in it and I couldn’t support that.”

Coffman told FOX31 that Bennet’s decision impressed him.

“I was really impressed with his decision,” Coffman said. “In fact, he caused me to take a closer look at the bill. I thought his vote was obviously right, and his concerns were actually broader than mine were.”

Gardner, however, was unwilling to lavish praise on Bennet.

“Bennet now finds himself in the position of being the chief partisan of the U.S. Senate,” Gardner said, referencing Bennet’s recent elevation to chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, the caucus’s campaign arm.

“He’s now in charge of electing Democrats and bashing Republicans in the Senate and he needs to appear to be somewhat independent. With this 89-to-8 vote, he had an opportunity to step out of lockstep with his party and attempt to portray some independence without any real political consequences.”