Divided House approves $2.9 trillion spending blueprint

Members reject GOP alternative calling for $279 billion in spending cuts over five years and a freeze in nondefense discretionary spending.

The House on Thursday approved a $2.9 trillion budget resolution on a 216-210 vote after the easy defeat of a Republican alternative and two Democratic substitutes.

Calling it "a budget for the future," Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the measure represents Democrats moving to put the American fiscal house in order by starting an "era of accountability." She contrasted the measure with what she called the reckless economic policies of the Bush administration and previous GOP majority that turned a federal surplus into a deficit.

"This fiscal unaccountability will be past today with the passage of this budget," said Pelosi.

The Republican alternative, which called for $279 billion in spending cuts over five years and a freeze in nondefense discretionary spending, was rejected, 268-160. Versions offered by the Congressional Black Caucus and the Democrats' progressive wing were rejected by lopsided margins.

The measure, offered by Budget Chairman John Spratt, D-S.C., foresees a $153 billion surplus by fiscal 2012, while adhering to pay-as-you-go rules requiring tax cuts and entitlement spending to be offset. The pay/go provisions are credited with securing support from fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats.

The budget would also increase discretionary spending by $24 billion, a move that helped win the backing of Democratic liberals, and it includes several "reserve" funds to ensure such Democratic priorities as the farm bill and relief from the alternative minimum tax are included, provided they are offset. But the resolution fails to spell out how to pay for those priorities, leaving the decisions up to the committees of jurisdiction.

Republicans maintained, as they have throughout the process, that the budget and alternatives offered by the Black Caucus and liberal lawmakers would raise taxes and not control spending.

"The three budgets on the other side of aisle all have one big thing in common -- they raise taxes," said Budget ranking member Paul Ryan, R-Wis. "They raise a lot of taxes, anywhere from $400 billion to a trillion dollars just over the next five years," he said.

Democrats countered that what Republicans are portraying as the largest tax increase in history is actually the Republican-designed 2010 expiration of President Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. The White House and Ryan also complained that the Democratic budget made no adjustments to entitlement programs, including Medicare and Medicaid.

"If we do nothing to control spending, by the time my children are my age, the federal [budget] will be doubled in size," Ryan said.