House passes balanced budget bill

Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., a member of the House Budget Committee Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., a member of the House Budget Committee J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The House on Wednesday passed legislation that directs President Obama to submit a balanced budget plan to Congress this spring.

The Require a Plan Act (H.R. 444) compels Obama to submit a supplemental budget by April 1 if his fiscal 2014 budget blueprint does not include a plan to balance the government’s books. That supplemental budget would outline a long-term deficit reduction strategy and timeline for balancing the budget. The chamber approved the legislation, shepherded by Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., and the GOP leadership, after debating it Wednesday morning.

The Democratic-controlled Senate is unlikely to take up the bill.

Lawmakers also approved three amendments aimed at improving government efficiency and federal budget transparency. Those measures would require the president’s supplemental budget to include an evaluation of duplicative federal programs and agencies and consolidation proposals; the cost per taxpayer of the annual deficit; and a breakdown of mandatory spending into means- and nonmeans-tested categories.

The House rejected a bipartisan amendment that would have required the president to use recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles commission as the framework for a supplemental budget. Other attempts by Democrats to include measures to replace the sequester with other spending cuts and revenue increases also failed.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said during floor debate that lawmakers instead should spend time on crafting a plan to avoid the looming automatic spending cuts, calling H.R. 444 a “political gimmick.” Price said the Require a Plan Act was a “common-sense piece of legislation” and a “serious debate about a serious issue.”

The administration on Monday missed the annual deadline to submit its budget recommendation for fiscal 2014, citing uncertainty over the fiscal cliff and sequestration as reasons for the delay. The administration’s proposal is expected sometime in March, though it’s not clear when exactly. Obama on Tuesday urged lawmakers to again delay the automatic, governmentwide spending cuts before they take effect on March 1.

“The House has developed a plan to balance the budget, and we voted on it twice,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., in a statement. “This year, we intend to improve on that plan and balance the budget even sooner than our prior proposals called for, within ten years. But we can’t do it alone. We need to have the cooperation of the president and the other body to make any meaningful progress.”

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