House Dems prepare alternative to budget that would avoid deficit vote

House Democrats are readying an alternative budget measure that would set next year’s spending levels without requiring a vote on deficits.

House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-S.C.) said the alternative would be the “functional equivalent” of a full-fledged budget. But because it won't be a traditional budget resolution, it will be silent on future deficits, which are expected to average nearly $1 trillion for the next decade.

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Democrats have expressed concern about voting for a document showing lots of red ink in an election year.

A traditional budget resolution sets the discretionary spending levels and also lays out the majority’s fiscal policies for future years. Alternative budget measures, known in past years as “deeming resolutions,” set spending caps but lack the statement on future spending and tax policies.

House Republicans have seized on Democrats’ inability to even bring up a budget resolution for consideration. Budget rules call on lawmakers to pass a budget by April 15.

Republicans had control of the House the previous four times Congress failed to approve a final budget resolution since 1974, when the current budget rules were put into place. But should Democrats move forward with an alternative budget measure, it would be the first time the House had failed to even propose a budget resolution.

“We need a real budget to stop Washington Democrats’ out-of-control spending spree, which is scaring the hell out of the American people, and to create jobs,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).

In addition to setting spending levels for 2011, the alternative budget may have other provisions, such as squaring the pay-as-you-go law signed by President Barack Obama with the similar pay-as-you-go House rule, Spratt said. Both PAYGO measures require new tax cuts or that entitlement programs be paid for with tax increases or spending cuts, but the House PAYGO rule, in place since before the law was enacted, can be more easily bypassed than the PAYGO law.

Spratt cautioned the work isn’t finished.

"It would have some other provisions we need to deal with, like maybe alignment of the statutory and House rules for PAYGO," Spratt said. "But we're making progress. I believe we're going to get to the endpoint. I don't want to misrepresent anything by saying we're there yet. We aren't. We're drawing alternatives."

Spratt said the budget may be attached to an upcoming supplemental spending bill, which will provide funding for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, domestic disaster aid and possibly fiscal aid to states and local governments to retain public workers.

Democrats have been trying to figure out how to move forward with the annual budget since April.

Fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats have been pressing House leaders for a 2 percent spending cut to non-security discretionary spending, which would go beyond the spending freeze that the White House has called for.

Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.), a senior Blue Dog, said he was “confident” the cut would be in place when Spratt’s budget proposal comes out.