The Republican-led House passed legislation Wednesday that would force President Obama to estimate when the federal budget will balance again — and outline the steps he proposes to eliminate the budget deficit.
As expected, the House approved the bill in a mostly party-line 253-167 vote, although 26 Democrats went against their leaders and supported the legislation. Most of the Democrats who voted yes are politically vulnerable in 2014. Reps. Bruce Braley (Iowa) and John Barrow (Ga.), who are considering Senate bids, voted with the GOP. Senate-hopeful Rep. Paul Broun (Ga.) was the only Republican to vote no.
In January, the House passed a bill putting pressure on the Senate to finally pass a budget plan, under the threat of withholding Senate salaries. Republicans credit the No Budget, No Pay Act with getting the Senate to commit to a budget this year, and Wednesday's bill is an attempt to prod the White House.
"Life teaches that if you don't have a plan, you're planning to fail," Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said during debate on the floor. "And this president does not have any plans to balance the federal budget, ever.
"We can't do it alone. We need to have the cooperation of the president and the other body to make any meaningful progress."
Earlier in the week, Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Washington will only make progress by getting the House, Senate and White House to submit deficit reduction proposals. Ryan said that in the last Congress, Democrats mostly sat on the sidelines and criticized House GOP proposals.
"When people put their solutions on the table, that's how you find common ground, that's how you get things done," Ryan said.
"But if it's a one-way conversation, where all you have is one side of the aisle putting solutions on the table and the other side of the aisle simply offering criticisms and no solutions to ever balance the budget, that gets you no progress, and unfortunately ... that's precisely where we are today."
Democrats cast the bill, H.R. 444, as a gimmick that would do nothing to address the more pressing concern of how to manage the upcoming sequester, which will require tens of billions of dollars in federal spending cuts.
"Playing games, that's what they have been doing and that's what they continue to do as we go into the spring," Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said. "Playing games that give new meaning to the term 'March Madness,' because that's what will result if we have to face a sequester."
On Tuesday, Democrats went so far as to say the bill is "stupid" because it's a step toward cuts to federal spending, which they said would hurt the economy and job growth.
"Is that a path the majority wants to walk down, because if they keep spending our time debating stupid legislation like this, we're going to find ourselves on that path before too long," Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said.
Republicans several times accused Democrats of trying to change the subject to the sequester, which they said would be dealt with soon.
"It simply does one thing," said Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) of his Require a PLAN Act. "It says to the president, when you bring a budget to Congress, tell us when it's going to balance, that's all it does."
The bill asks Obama to submit a 2014 budget this year that anticipates no deficit in some future year. If the budget fails to do that, Obama would have to submit a supplemental budget estimating when balance is achieved, and recommendations on how to reach that point.
House passage sends the bill to the Senate, which is highly unlikely to consider it.
In Wednesday morning voting, the House soundly rejected a bipartisan amendment that would have encouraged Obama to reach a balanced budget by using the recommendations of the so-called Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan. That amendment failed 75-348.
That failure was expected, after the House last year defeated a Simpson-Bowles-based budget resolution in a 38-382 vote. Republicans in particular have criticized the plan as one that leans too heavily on new tax revenue to balance the budget.
The House also rejected an amendment from freshman Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) clarifying that it's the responsibility of Congress to pass budgets and appropriate funds. Takano's language was defeated 194-228.
Members did agree to three other amendments by voice vote Wednesday morning, from:
— John Fleming (R-La.), requiring Obama's supplemental budget to evaluate the possibility of consolidating agencies,
— Luke Messer (R-Ind.), requiring Obama's supplemental to include the per-taxpayer cost of the budget deficit for each year in which a deficit is expected, and
— Steve Scalise (R-La.), requiring the supplemental to note the growth of means-tested and non-means-tested direct spending.
This article was updated at 3 p.m.