WASHINGTON – House Republicans scrambled Friday to vote down their own extremely conservative budget after Democrats called their bluff and withheld opposition, forcing GOP lawmakers to defeat the bill themselves.

The proposal, put forth by the Republican Study Committee, was a more extreme alternative to the plan offered by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI). It sought to make massive cuts to Social Security and Medicare while providing even larger tax breaks for high income earners.

A proposal like that would ordinarily have no chance of passing, typically earning total opposition from Democrats and dissent from enough Republicans. Yet voting on it would serve to please the GOP's right flank, while passage would tar the party with seeking to gut America's social safety net.

But, far from unified opposition, a total of 172 Democrats voted "present." That shocked Republicans, forcing some of them to flip their "yes" votes to "no" in order to defeat the bill that would otherwise have passed with a majority.

The measure ultimately failed 119-136.

Shortly after, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) wrote to his Twitter followers, "Dems voting present on RSC budget to highlight GOP divisions, plans to end Medicare - which bdgt does GOP support? Ryan or Ryan on steroids?"

RSC Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) posted a message on Facebook following the vote.

"Our Republican Study Committee (RSC) balanced budget came within 18 votes of passing on the House Floor today," he wrote. "I am disappointed we did not win, but this is the closest we have ever been to passing our balanced budget. I am motivated to keep fighting to balance the budget and begin paying down our national debt."

Watch the video from C-SPAN, broadcast April 15, 2011.

Video captured by David Edwards

[Image via Leader Pelosi, Creative Commons licensed]