House approves $3 trillion budget as both parties jockey for position
The House passed a $3 trillion Democratic spending plan Thursday as Congress engaged in a day of budget theater that had as much to do with...
The New York Times
WASHINGTON — The House passed a $3 trillion Democratic spending plan Thursday as Congress engaged in a day of budget theater that had as much to do with the political bottom line as federal fiscal policy.
With three presidential candidates on hand, the Senate gave final party-line approval to its budget after easily dismissing a politically charged plan to ban spending for one year on pet projects sought by lawmakers. The final vote was 51-44.
Both parties seized on the annual debate over the spending blueprint as a way to shape the 2008 campaign dialogue and try to force the White House contenders into embarrassing votes or build opposition to their policy ideas.
"There is a lot of jockeying going on," acknowledged Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a close ally of Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
The House voted 212-207 to approve the plan developed by Democrats that would increase spending on domestic programs such as education, health care, veterans benefits and new energy technology, while allowing some tax cuts pushed by President Bush to expire in two years.
"This budget charts a new direction for America," said Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., the chairman of the Budget Committee.
The House defeated a Republican alternative that would have slowed spending on Medicare and other entitlement programs, permanently extended the tax cuts, invested more in military spending and put a one-year freeze on congressional pet projects known as earmarks.
Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the senior Republican on the House Budget Committee, acknowledged that "earmarks proliferated on the Republican watch" during the previous decade. Indeed, he said: "Both parties are guilty. That's why we should have a moratorium."
As the House sought to plow through work before a two-week break, its members agreed to convene in a rare closed session to privately discuss the administration's terrorist surveillance program before a vote today on a Democratic version of the spy program that President Bush opposes.
In the Senate, McCain, hoping to cast a symbolic vote against earmarks, swooped in for the all-day budget vote-a-thon. So did the Democratic presidential rivals, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois. Those two, who also back the earmark restriction, took time for a private conversation on the floor as they and their colleagues milled about for hours while dozens of votes were taken.
But their colleagues demonstrated that they were far from ready to forgo earmarks and the moratorium proposal fell a whopping 31 votes short of the 60 it needed to clear a procedural hurdle. Forty-five Democrats and 25 Republicans joined an independent in blocking the plan on a 71-29 vote.
"We found out tonight that there is only one place in American that doesn't get it about wasteful, earmark pork-barrel spending," McCain said after the vote as he took on members of both parties for rejecting the ban.
The two budgets, which must be reconciled for a final vote later this spring, are nonbinding and represent no formal action on either spending or taxes. But a final budget serves as the framework for later spending and tax decisions and as a policy manifesto for the majority party.
Senate Democrats sought to quickly take the topic of tax cuts off the table. By a 99-1 vote, the Senate extended elements of Bush's cuts that apply mainly to the middle class, such as the $1,000 child tax credit. But a proposal by Graham to make a similar pledge on lower rates for capital gains and stock dividends was defeated, with Clinton and Obama among those opposing it.
McCain, who once opposed the tax cuts, sided with Graham. "The one thing we should not do, under any circumstances given our present economy, is to raise taxes on American workers who are already struggling to put food on their tables and gas in their cars," McCain said.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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