WASHINGTON – An effort to impose legal hurdles on lawmakers' own spending urges failed as House Republicans split among themselves over taxes and spending during an era of war and deficits.
House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, said there was victory even in this election-year defeat.
"Today was a good debate because any day you discuss controlling spending is a good day," he said.
Many Democrats disagreed.
"This bill was an irresponsible charade," said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md. "Republican leaders rolled the dice on this bill, and they lost."
In a late night roll call Thursday, the House voted 268-146 to reject a bill that would have imposed a legal ceiling on the one-third of the federal budget (search) set annually by Congress to fund routine agency operations.
If such spending exceeded $821 billion next year or $843 billion in 2006, automatic cuts would be triggered in those programs to bring them back to the legal limits.
The bill also sought to restrain spending in the remaining two-thirds of the budget that covers automatically paid benefits like Social Security (search), Medicare (search) and welfare. Under the bill, any expansions of those programs would have to be paid for by cuts in other benefits, though Social Security and some other benefits would be protected.
The spending controls failed as Republicans splintered over the best way to constrain a growing federal deficit.
Many urged the House to accept legal spending limits but let tax cuts proceed without restriction.
"Should the family budget be protected from the fed budget?" said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas. "We must limit, the size, the scope, the power and the expense of federal government."
Some argued that deficits demanded that even tax cuts get a second look.
"To truly balance our budget, everything really should be on the table," said Rep. Michael Castle, R-Del.
Those on the committee that doles out federal dollars said they weren't to blame, and that lawmakers should look more closely at the two-thirds of federal spending paid as automatic benefits.
"They are the spending programs that run us deeper into debt every year," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla.
Many Democrats - and an occasional Republican - said the GOP needs to simply exercise more restraint, not pass a new law.
"We have got to stop handing over our responsibilities to someone else to save ourselves from ourselves," said Rep. James Walsh, R-N.Y. "We have to have some discipline."
Divisions among Republicans have prevented the House and Senate from settling on a single budget blueprint to guide next year's spending and tax policies.
The House also rejected a Democratic effort to tilt the budget away from tax cuts and toward debt reduction and homeland security, health and education spending. The measure, rejected 230-184, would have taken back a slice of the tax cuts meant for taxpayers earning $1 million or more, redirecting that $19 billion to debt reduction and education, health and homeland security spending.