House budget move kicks tough decisions down the road

House Democrats unveiled a budget document Thursday that would cap discretionary spending at $1.12 trillion, $7 billion less than what President Barack Obama proposed.

The “budget enforcement resolution” Democrats are substituting for a traditional budget resolution doesn’t detail how record deficits would be reduced, but sets spending levels below those proposed by the White House and Senate. It kicks hard decisions about the budget down the road to a fiscal commission.

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Democrats are expected to attach their budget document to a rule setting debate on the war funding bill for Afghanistan. The House could vote on that rule as early as Thursday.

The enforcement resolution is being used because rank-and-file Democrats did not want to vote for a budget resolution that would show large deficits, particularly in an election year marked by worries about the nation’s fiscal solvency.

The measure, written by House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-S.C.), calls for a budget by 2015 that would be balanced except for debt interest payments. This mirrors a goal already set out by Obama.

Spratt’s measure doesn’t say what policies Congress should enact to reach that out-year goal, something past budget resolutions have done. Instead, it relies on the White House fiscal commission, a bipartisan panel looking at tax, spending and entitlement policies, to come up with a plan to halve the projected $1.5 trillion 2010 deficit by 2015.

“While this resolution does not project the budget out over five years, it does look to the future by assuring that the House will have an opportunity to vote this year on longer-term budget proposals made by the president’s Fiscal Commission and approved by the Senate,” Spratt said.

The White House panel plans to report out its recommendations in December.

Republican leaders have slammed the Democrats’ decision not to do a traditional budget when deficits are soaring, seeing it as more evidence of their inability to govern.

Congress failed to adopt a full budget resolution four times when Republicans controlled the House, but on each of those occasions the House approved its own budget.

Spratt’s measure would also increase funding for programs seeking to root out waste and sync the pay-as-you-go law enacted this year with a previous House pay-go rule, which was less stringent but still in effect.