WASHINGTON -- Rejecting the idea that Congress can't control its spending impulses, the House turned back a Republican proposal Friday to amend the Constitution to dam the rising flood of federal red ink.
Democrats, and a few GOP lawmakers, said damage from the balanced-budget mandate would outweigh any benefits.
The first House vote in 16 years on making federal deficits unconstitutional came as the separate bipartisan "supercommittee" appeared to be sputtering in its attempt to find at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions to head off major automatic cuts.
The lead Republican on that panel said members were "painfully, painfully aware" of its Wednesday deadline for action, and would work through the weekend.
The House voted 261-165 in favor of the measure to require annual balanced budgets, but that was 23 short of the two-thirds majority needed to advance a constitutional amendment.
Democrats overwhelmingly opposed the proposal, arguing that such a requirement would force Congress to make devastating cuts to social programs.
Most Republicans favored the measure, but there were prominent exceptions.
Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the party's point man on budgetary matters, agreed with GOP colleagues that "spending is the problem."
But he added that "this version of the balanced budget amendment makes it more likely taxes will be raised, government will grow and economic freedom will be diminished."
In all, 235 Republicans and 25 Democrats voted for the amendment, and four Republicans and 161 Democrats opposed it.
The other three Republicans voting no were David Dreier of California, Justin Amash of Michigan and Louie Gohmert of Texas.