House Democrats pass 'budget enforcement resolution' by 215-210

House Democrats passed a budget document Thursday that sets discretionary spending at levels below those proposed by President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBarack Obama wishes a happy 58th birthday to 'best friend' Michelle Voting rights is a constitutional right: Failure is not an option Florida looms large in Republican 2024 primary MORE but doesn’t address how Congress should cut deficits.

The “budget enforcement resolution” Democrats are substituting for a traditional budget resolution sets discretionary spending for 2011 at $1.12 trillion, about $7 billion less than Obama’s proposal and $3 billion less than a Senate Democratic plan. It also sets a goal of cutting deficits to the point where revenues equal all spending except for interest payments on the debt.

But unlike traditional budget resolutions, this year’s version doesn’t detail how Congress should reach that goal, leaving those tough decisions to Obama’s bipartisan fiscal commission.

“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,” said House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-S.C.).

The budget measure passed on a 215-210 vote as part of a rule setting debate on a supplemental spending bill for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. All Republicans plus 38 Democrats from both ends of their caucus voted against the bill. Liberals had concerns about the war while centrist Democrats raised concerns about domestic and disaster aid spending that House leaders plan to attach to the bill.

The enforcement resolution is being used instead of a full-fledged budget resolution 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 calls for a budget by 2015 that would be balanced except for debt interest payments. This mirrors a goal already set out by Obama.

The budget document, however, 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 reach their target by 2015.

This year’s deficit is projected by the Congressional Budget Office to be $1.5 trillion, or 10 percent of gross domestic product. A budget balanced except for payments on the debt is about 3 percent of GDP.

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. GOP members noted that Democrats’ spending levels for 2011 would raise non-emergency discretionary spending levels by $31 billion.

“Facing a record deficit and a tidal wave of debt, House Democrats decided it was politically inconvenient to put forward a budget and account for their fiscal recklessness,” said Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanOn The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood Stopping the next insurrection Former Sen. Bob Dole dies at 98 MORE (Wis.), the top Republican on the House Budget Committee. “With no priorities and no restraints, the spending, taxing, and borrowing will continue unchecked for the coming fiscal year.”

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

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.

Senate Democrats have yet to decide how they will set spending levels for next year, choosing to wait for the House to act first.