Washington (CNN) - Hours before the president was scheduled to give his State of the Union address, the new House Republican majority approved a resolution pledging to cut non-security federal spending to "2008 levels or less." GOP aides said that could mean about $60 billion in savings.
The vote was largely along party lines, 256-165. Seventeen House Democrats voted with the Republicans on the measure.
Democrats argued that the resolution gives unprecedented power to the new House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, because it lets him set the new government funding levels without any committee vote or other House action. They accused Republicans of putting politics ahead of policy by holding the vote on the same day that Ryan was scheduled to give the Republican response to the president's address.
Referring to Ryan, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer told reporters, "the founding fathers did not contemplate one person out of 435 setting policy for the country, or for the House of Representatives more narrowly."
But Ryan countered that it was the Congressional Democrats' own failure to pass a budget last year that forced Republicans to take action to begin the process of reining in spending.
"The reason this is necessary is unprecedented. It is unprecedented since the 1974 budget act passed that Congress didn't bother to pass or even propose a budget," Ryan argued on the House floor. "With no budget in place there's no budget act to enforce."
"We're five months into the new fiscal year and we are in the process of cleaning up the mess that was handed to us," California Republican David Dreier said.
The government is currently operating under a temporary funding resolution that expires in early March. While the GOP resolution approved Tuesday promises to roll back government spending, it doesn't set an overall spending limit for the remainder of the fiscal year. Democrats seized on this point.
"We asked yesterday and instead [Republicans] produced what is likely the first budget resolution in history that doesn't contain any budget numbers, and that might be because the Republican majority can't figure out what the numbers should be," Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern said.
Republicans stressed that they are still committed to cutting non defense spending by $100 billion or more, and this resolution was simply the beginning of the process to make good on that promise.
"We are getting ourselves on a path toward fiscal responsibility and I believe that is one of the most important things we can do," Dreier explained.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is expected to release its annual budget deficit figures on Wednesday, which traditionally set the baseline for Congressional committees to begin drafting their annual budget resolutions.
The top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland, criticized the GOP for moving ahead without the nonpartisan CBO numbers.
"A little later today the President of the United States will be here to deliver the State of the Union Address and instead of being serious about this number, they want to deliver a press release, " Van Hollen said, adding, "I mean that is what this is about without a number. Otherwise we would wait 24 hours and our friends could tell us what that number would be."
Ryan noted the CBO number is expected Wednesday, but stressed "business as usual has to come to end," a theme he will likely stress in his response to the president Tuesday night.