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Speaker of the House John Boehner holds up the gavel after being re-elected on the first day of the 113th Congress at the Capitol in Washington on Thursday. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Boehner holds on to Speaker post

WASHINGTON - Despite a rocky few weeks during the "fiscal cliff" fight, John Boehner won re-election as speaker of the House of Representatives on Thursday and will again lead Republicans as they take on the White House over federal spending.

Boehner defeated House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi 220-192 in a vote on the opening day of the 113th Congress and vowed to use his second term to shrink the national debt of $16 trillion to prevent it from "draining free enterprise."

The Ohio congressman narrowly avoided the embarrassment of having to go to a second round of voting, as 12 conservatives held back their support for him. It was the closest margin of any speaker vote since 1997.

But without a challenger from inside his party, Boehner's re-election was never in doubt even though he has struggled to control an unruly group of fiscal conservatives in his caucus.

True to form, the often emotional Boehner shed a tear or two as he took the gavel and spelled out the challenges ahead.

"Our government has built up too much debt. Our economy is not producing enough jobs. These are not separate problems," Boehner said.

"At $16 trillion and rising, our national debt is draining free enterprise and weakening the ship of state."

Questions were asked about Boehner's speakership when conservative Tea Party-backed lawmakers delivered him a stinging defeat in December by rejecting a proposal of his during talks with President Barack Obama to raise taxes on millionaires.

Boehner also came under fire for voting on Tuesday for a compromise deal to prevent the U.S. economy from falling off the so-called fiscal cliff and for being slow to approve aid for victims of Superstorm Sandy in the Northeast.

"Being speaker today is no bargain, I tell you," Republican Representative Peter King of New York told MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

Widely seen as having lost the "fiscal cliff" fight with Obama by accepting tax increases, congressional Republicans are keen for a rematch and they will get the chance soon.

Debate is likely to be fierce when lawmakers deal with planned spending cuts for military and domestic programs that are due to start in February. Around that time, Congress is likely to take up the thorny issue of extending the "debt ceiling" - the limit of how much the federal government can borrow.

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