Both the Bush and Obama administrations have tried to cancel the defense-spending provision in the past but without success. So far, the program has cost $3 billion, and billions more will be needed to finish work on an engine that the Pentagon does not want.
But on Wednesday's vote, 110 Republicans teamed up with 123 Democrats to kill the alternative engine, handing Obama a major victory but a huge loss for Boehner and his leadership who backed the project.
"This constitutional, republican form of government is messy and debate is messy, but I think it's so important that, for the first time in how many years now, members can actually take their argument to the floor, have a debate, force a recorded vote on their issue," Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa told the Washington Post.
Notably, not all of the budget-cutting amendments would actually cut spending. Some would simply take money from one program and give it to another. In one amendment, Rep. Anthony Weiner, Democrat of New York, would cut nearly $300 million from NASA in order to restore funding for the COPS community-policing program. In another, Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., a New Jersey Democrat, would pull $510 million from the Department of Homeland Security's research-and-development program and use it to assist local governments to hire police and firefighters. Both amendments passed.
Other amendments strike at relatively smaller amounts of money but scandalously wasteful spending nonetheless. Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, is offering an amendment to kill funding for government research into how effectively men use condoms and whether yoga helps menopausal women who have hot flashes.
No one expects the House budget-cutting bill to pass the Senate when it returns from its winter recess later this month. But Democrats, who still rule that chamber by a narrow margin, will have to figure out how they can keep the government funded beyond mid-March that can pass muster in the Republican-run House.
Even though they were in charge, the Democrats never produced a budget last year, putting the government on a continuing resolution until mid-March, which is the fiscal equivalent of being on autopilot.
Meantime, Boehner and his Republican leadership have returned participatory democracy to the House where both parties have a chance to shape legislation. Sure it's messy, but it marks the end of the Pelosi dictatorship.