The House last week passed a constitutional amendment requiring the federal government to balance its books, while opponents said it would gut Medicare and Medicaid.
The vote was 300-132, with 72 Democrats joining 228 GOP supporters. Just two Republicans voted no.
The Senate is expected to take up the amendment in February. It must be ratified by 38 states.
Before the vote, opponents released a study by the Democratic staff of the Joint Economic Committee showing Medicare would have to be cut by $220 billion over five years and Medicaid by $115 billion to balance the budget by 2002. Those figures assume Social Security would be untouched, as congressional leadership has promised.
Cuts of $1.2 trillion from currently projected spending are needed to balance the budget in seven years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The Clinton administration worried the measure would cripple Medicare, a White House spokesman said.
New projections released last week by CBO Director Robert Reischauer show Medicare and Medicaid spending will be less than previously expected, but they continue to help drive the deficit.
The CBO lowered projections for Medicare spending for every year through 2000, the last year analyzed. The 1995 projection dropped $3 billion, to $176 billion. In 1996, Medicare spending is expected to be $196 billion, $2 billion less than previously predicted.
But even with the new forecast, Medicare will grow more than twice as fast as other government programs, according to the CBO.
Medicaid spending is also estimated to increase at a slower rate than projected previously. In 1999, the CBO estimates Medicaid spending will be $136 billion, $13 billion less than it projected just last August.