The House on Tuesday afternoon approved the third of ten Republican budget reform bills, H.R. 3581, which puts several "off budget" items back on budget, changes the way government lending programs are scored and requires agencies to post their budget justifications online.
The bill was approved 245-180, over heavy Democratic objections: only seven Democrats voted in favor of the bill.
"While it's well-known that Washington has a spending problem, it is less well known that Washington isn't being fully honest about how much it is spending," House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said during floor debate.
Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.), the sponsor of the Budget and Accounting Transparency Act, said placing mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on budget is a big reason to support the bill, as both quasi-government entities were put into receivership by the federal government in order to cope with the mortgage crisis.
"Because Fannie and Freddie have become the explicit financial responsibility of the federal government, it only makes sense that we treat them the same as we would any other obligation of the federal government by formally bringing them on-budget," he said.
"The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office took this step several years ago, but the Office of Management and Budget has resisted the change, preferring to obscure the total federal exposure to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac," he added. "It's time the Obama administration did the same."
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the ranking member of the Budget Committee, said he would probably support the bill if it only put Fannie and Freddie onto the federal budget. But he cited other language in the bill that would make the government score federal lending programs as being more costly, in line with how the private credit markets account loan programs.
Van Hollen and others said this change would increase the cost of these programs, making it harder to justify spending. "The reality is that if you apply this methodology to student loans, you will systematically overestimate the cost in the budget in terms of outlays," he said.
The House considered just one amendment to the bill, from Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), that would delay the implementation of the bill until a commission makes recommendations on how best to account for the costs of federal credit programs. The House defeated that amendment along party lines, and two other proposed amendments were withdrawn.
House passage sends the bill to a Senate that appears unlikely to take up any of the House-passed proposals so far.
The House last week approved two other budget reform bills that would end the practice of automatically adjusting budgets to account for inflation, and require the Congressional Budget Office to provide macroeconomic analyses of budget plans.
The House is also expected to take up H.R. 3521, the Expedited Line-Item Veto and Rescissions Act, as early as Wednesday. That bill would allow the president to recommend budget rescissions that Congress would then be able to approve on an expedited basis.