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A Mighty Budget debate...

The powerful House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to vote this afternoon on the Senate Republicans' $27.3 billion budget counterproposal to Gov. Rendell's spending plan.

Democrats who control the House have made no secret that they dislike the Republican plan, and will likely not vote for it. Nonetheless, today's hearing is sure to yield yet more impassioned debate on the subject, even as the clock ticks closer to the state's July 1 deadline to enact a budget.

The GOP's $27.3 billion plan is nearly 6 percent less than that proposed by Rendell in February and would use $2.7 billion in federal stimulus funds to help compensate for some of the cuts.

Senate Republican leaders have repeatedly said in the last few weeks that they want to make sure that the state is not relying unduly on federal stimulus dollars - which will last for only two years - to make ends meet. Instead, they are advocating a budget with state spending that can be sustained even when the federal money runs out.

Democrats, including Gov. Rendell, hate it of course.And they've spent the last few weeks pummeling the press (and anyone else willing to listen) with dire predictions of what they believe would be the devastating impact of the Senate's proposed cuts on virtually every state agency and department.

Republicans counter that Rendell's proposed $29 billion budget proposal, which he unveiled in February, is not only impractical but obsolete given the state's worsening revenue picture since that time.

The Appropriations Committee hearing is scheduled for 2 p.m., and for all those who want to watch it, it will be streamed live and can be viewed at (although, word of warning, the site appears to be down at the moment).

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