The House rejected a conservative budget Wednesday in a 104-132 vote, with 171 Democrats voting present.
Democrats voted present to force more Republicans to vote against the Republican Study Committee's (RSC) budget. Democrats hoped that by getting their members to vote present instead of against the budget, it might be approved by the House.
That would have allowed Democrats to train their campaign ads on the RSC budget, which would boost the Social Security age to 70 and cut Medicare benefits, including for people now 59 years old. The RSC blueprint would balance the budget in four years.
Democrats urged their members in an email just before the ballot to vote present.
"Voting 'present' takes Democrats out of the equation so the American people can see just how extreme the Republican conference truly is," the Democratic email said.
Only 14 Democrats voted against the RSC budget, along with 118 Republicans.
The strategy was used by Democrats two years ago, when the RSC budget failed 119-136. Republicans split 119-120 in that vote, and just 16 Democrats voted against the budget.
The budget plan would cut discretionary spending to 2008 levels, and then freeze them there until the budget balances in 2017. It also seeks to simplify the tax code and would move Medicare to a premium-support system.
Supporters of the bill said Congress needs to balance the budget as soon as possible in order to start paying down the government's $16.5-trillion debt.
"If a budget is nothing else, it is a statement of our values and our priorities," Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) said. "And the Republican Study Committee's value and priority is to end the passing of responsibilities from this generation to the next, to be responsible for the bills that we create today and paying for those priorities today."
Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) said the pending debt crisis demands swifter action than what is found in Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) budget plan, which balances in 10 years, but allows spending to increase.
"Simply reducing the growth of spending will do nothing to address the economic emergency that we face."
Other GOP supporters blasted President Obama for failing to provide any budget alternatives in time for the House votes, let alone one that balances.
"What is the president's budget? It doesn't exist," said Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.). "Today, the president released his final four picks. He's not a day late on that. Yet under the law, the president is now 45 days late on releasing his budget."
Democrats criticized the budget for using the savings from taxes in the 2010 healthcare law, even though Republicans say they want to repeal that law entirely.
"It gets to that balance by keeping the savings from Obamacare, which our Republican colleagues say they want to eliminate," Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said.
Most Republicans were expected to oppose the budget, and did, although no Republican spoke against the bill during debate.
Heritage Action said after the vote that it will continue to "key vote" the RSC budget despite the Democratic maneuver, meaning that those Republicans who voted against the RSC budget will see their annual scores suffer.
--Erik Wasson contributed to this report
--This report was updated at 8:42 p.m.