Eighty-two Democrats joined all House Republicans in rejecting the bill, The Hill reported.
The measure would have raised the nation's $14.3 trillion debt limit to $16.3 trillion without any accompanying spending cuts, The Washington Post reported.
The vote was pushed by Republican House members, a move Democrats said was nothing more than political posturing.
"It will not be an adult moment on the floor of the House of Representatives," McClatchy Newspapers quoted House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., as saying prior to the vote. "If we were adults, and acting as adults, we would come together and give certainty to the markets that, of course America is going to pay its bills -- bills that we have all incurred over the last 30 years."
Republicans contend Democrats are the ones who are being irresponsible.
The Hill noted House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., sponsored the bill only to vote against it.
"This vote, a vote based on legislation I have introduced, will and must fail," Camp said in a floor speech. "Now, most members aren't happy when they bring a bill to the floor and it fails, but I consider defeating an unconditional increase to be a success, because it sends a clear and critical message that the Congress has finally recognized we must immediately begin to rein in America's affection for deficit spending."
GOP House leaders timed the so-called clean, up-or-down vote to make a point before all 241 members of the Republican conference meet with Obama at the White House Wednesday, the Post said. The White House meeting will be Obama's first with the entire group of Republicans since the party won control of the House in November's midterm elections.
Tuesday evening's vote also was timed to take place after the U.S. stock markets closed. This was to avoid a repeat of what happened in September 2008 when a House vote rejecting the $700 billion Wall Street bailout triggered the single largest one-day drop in stock prices ever, the Post said.
With the bill's rejection, the focus will return to a bipartisan group of six congressional leaders who have been meeting with Vice President Joe Biden to come up with massive spending cuts to allow the debt limit to rise. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said Sunday the negotiations were going well.
The proposed cuts so far top $1 trillion during the next decade, both sides say -- cuts Biden called a "down payment" on much greater cuts planned by the Aug. 2 deadline.
"Everything is on the table," Cantor told the CBS News program "Face the Nation" when asked if the proposed cuts included Medicare, which provides health coverage to people age 65 and over.