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House Backs Balanced-Budget Measure

The House on Wednesday passed legislation that would require President Barack Obama to either propose a budget that balances within 10 years or identify when that would happen, amid sharp criticism from Democrats that the measure was merely political messaging.

The chamber passed the measure (HR 444), 253-167, with 26 Democrats breaking from their party to vote in favor of the bill. Paul Broun of Georgia was the lone Republican to vote in opposition.

Sponsored by Tom Price, R-Ga., the measure would require the president to submit a supplemental plan identifying when a balanced budget would be reached if his fiscal 2014 budget would not eliminate the deficit within the period (usually 10 years) that estimates are provided.

Obama missed Monday’s deadline set out in law for releasing his annual budget. White House officials said the delay is due to uncertainty over fiscal-cliff issues, which were resolved only a month ago.

The Democratic Senate is not expected to take up the bill.

In supporting the legislation, House Republicans have hammered on Obama’s missed deadline, arguing that it was the fourth time in five years that the deadline hasn’t been met. GOP lawmakers also argued that the national debt has grown under Obama’s watch and that his previous budgets would never reach balance.

“All we’re saying is that … he needs to bring ideas to the table,” Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Budget Committee, said Tuesday on the House floor.

Steve Scalise, R-La., said that the House has produced budgets during the past two years but that the Senate hasn’t done so in four years and that the president has missed his deadline several times.

“Is it too much just to ask the president: When is your budget gonna finally get to balance?” Scalise said.

Democrats opposed the measure, criticizing Republicans for taking up legislation they described as a political gimmick instead of trying to avoid the automatic spending cuts slated to take effect March 1.

“It’s a gimmick wrapped in talking points inside a press release,” said Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern.

Louise M. Slaughter, D-N.Y., said the sequester would cause economic harm and cost jobs.

“Is that the path the majority wants to walk down?” Slaughter said. “Because if they keep spending our time debating stupid legislation like this, we’re gonna find ourselves on that path before too long.”

Before passing the measure, the House adopted by voice vote three Republican amendments, including a proposal by Luke Messer, R-Ind., that would require the supplemental budget to include an estimated cost per taxpayer for each year that a deficit is projected. Messer said the amendment would serve as a reminder to lawmakers and the president that their decisions have consequences for taxpayers.

The House rejected, 194-228, a proposal by Mark Takano, D-Calif., that would change language in the bill to say that since Obama took office, Congress has let the federal debt grow by nearly $6 trillion and that the total debt is more than the size of nation’s entire economy. The underlying bill cited the president as being responsible.

Takano said that the bill attempts to blame Obama for the nation’s fiscal woes, but that Congress holds the power of the purse.

Democrats decried the House Rules panel’s rejection on Monday of a bid to allow consideration of a Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., substitute amendment that would replace the fiscal 2013 sequester with increased taxes for individuals with incomes of more than $1 million annually, eliminate agricultural direct payments and cut tax benefits for large oil companies. Van Hollen is the Budget Committee’s ranking Democrat.

House passage of the measure follows up on another budget-themed measure that House Republicans brought to the floor in recent weeks. The most recent debt limit bill (HR 325) includes provisions that would tie lawmakers’ salaries to adoption of a budget resolution. The House passed the measure Jan. 23, and the Senate cleared it Jan. 31.

Paul M. Krawzak and Annie Shuppy contributed to this report.

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