Washington Resurgent House Democrats voted Friday, their second day back in control, to block future tax cuts or benefit increases from being financed with dollars that swell the national deficit.
Republicans protested the change would imperil GOP-sponsored tax cuts that expire in four years. The new rule also could make it more difficult for the Democrats to fulfill campaign promises to cut student loan rates and extend tax cuts for the middle class.
The drive to restore the "pay-as-you-go" rule long has been a priority for moderate-to-conservative Democrats, whose House ranks swelled on Election Day.
Adopted 280-152, the measure also requires legislation that contains pet projects and narrowly targeted tax breaks - "earmarks" to Washington insiders - to include the names of the lawmakers who requested them.
The idea is that openness will help prevent abuses like the earmark bribery scandal that forced former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., out of Congress and into prison. The new rules replace slightly weaker ones on earmarks approved in September by Republicans.
In the Senate, both parties had private strategy meetings. The chamber's first moves next week will largely mirror House steps to ban lawmakers from accepting gifts and free trips from lobbyists. The bipartisan Senate ethics and lobbying reform bill, the first legislation to reach floor debate under Democratic control, also requires disclosure of senators' earmarks.
Democrats have promised to eliminate earmarks in a catchall spending bill that will clear budget work left from last year - and say that the upcoming round of appropriations bills will contain far fewer home-state projects, criticized as wasteful "pork" by taxpayer advocates.
Earmarks such as the "bridge to nowhere," a much-mocked proposal to build a $223 million span in Alaska to link Ketchikan and lightly populated Gravina Island, have captured the attention of voters, and Republicans say they're one of the reasons the party fared so badly in November.
The pay-as-you-go rule promises to have a far bigger impact on the deficit.
The rule requires that tax cuts have corresponding cuts in government spending or increases in taxes elsewhere to pay for them. Likewise, any increase in entitlement programs such as Medicare would have to have corresponding tax increases, or equal cuts in other programs.