WASHINGTON - Majority Democrats passed an important test yesterday with approval of a $2.9 trillion budget plan that promises big spending increases for party priorities such as education and health care.
The budget blueprint sets a course to produce a small surplus in five years by assuming that many of President Bush's tax cuts would expire. Putting the budget framework in place also sets up veto confrontations with Bush over increases for domestic programs.
The nonbinding measure for the budget year that begins Oct. 1 does not go to Bush for his signature or veto. Rather, it sets parameters for Congress to follow when writing tax and spending legislation later this year.
The House passed the measure by a 214-209 vote without a single Republican voting for it. The Senate quickly followed on a 52-40 vote; moderate Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine joined with Democrats.
The measure moves to bolster domestic programs whose budgets Bush has curbed and lets expire tax cuts that have benefited upper-bracket taxpayers.
"The budget rejects the misplaced priorities of the Bush administration, which wants to hand out tax breaks worth $150,000 a year to those making more than a million dollars, while making deep cuts in education and Social Security benefits," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
The budget plan was seen as a critical test of Democrats' ability to govern and they were eager to produce a surplus after criticizing Republicans for running steady deficits since 2002.
But deficits under the Democratic plan would be higher over the next two years than the $150 billion to $200 billion the Congressional Budget Office now predicts. A $41 billion surplus is projected for 2012.
The blueprint's most immediate effect is clearing the way for action this summer on 12 annual spending bills for 2008 that total $1.1 trillion. That figure includes $145 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and a $481 billion "core" Pentagon budget with a record increase of more than $50 billion.
The White House has pledged numerous vetoes over Democrats' plans for a $23 billion increase over Bush's request for nondefense agency budgets. Democrats plan increases averaging 5 percent for domestic programs, including education, community development grants and veterans' medical care.
Wasting no time, a House Appropriations panel today planned to approve a $36.2 billion homeland security bill that exceeds Bush's request by about 6 percent.
Even with the spending increase, the measure may prove too popular for Bush to carry out his threat. *