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Spending clears House; Senate key to Iraq funds

WASHINGTON - The House last night approved a $516 billion measure containing money for 14 cabinet agencies and funding for troops in Afghanistan, setting the stage for a budget deal with the White House.

WASHINGTON - The House last night approved a $516 billion measure containing money for 14 cabinet agencies and funding for troops in Afghanistan, setting the stage for a budget deal with the White House.

Despite opposition from conservative Republicans, President Bush has signaled he will ultimately sign the measure - assuming that the Senate provides up to $40 billion more for the Iraq war.

In an unusual two-step, lawmakers first voted 253-154 to approve the 1,482-page omnibus spending bill; they then voted 206-201 to add $31 billion for troops in Afghanistan to the measure. The combined spending package is set for Senate debate today.

The year-end measure mostly sticks within Bush's budget, though it shifts billions of dollars into politically sensitive programs he sought to cut. The president indicated he would sign the measure, which awards a 4 percent increase, on average, to domestic programs.

Bush's approval depends on Senate Republicans succeeding, later this week, in adding the funds for U.S. troops in Iraq.

The president said earlier yesterday, "We're making some pretty good progress toward coming up with a fiscally sound budget, one that meets priorities, helps on some emergencies, and enables us to say that we've been fiscally sound with the people's money."

Republicans generally opposed the omnibus measure because it lacks funding for military operations in Iraq and provides $13 billion above Bush's "top line" request for the one-third of the budget that Congress passes each year.

The Senate is expected to approve the bill after substituting $70 billion in funding for Iraq and Afghanistan. The complicated plan calls for the House to then have a vote limited to the war funding. That vote, if successful, would clear the combined bill for Bush's approval and allow lawmakers to go home for Christmas.

The result would be a twin defeat for Democrats, who had vowed not to allow additional Iraq war funding without conditions and had spent months on legislation to add $27 billion to domestic programs, an almost 7 percent increase.

Bush sought a much smaller increase, less than 1 percent, for domestic programs other than military-base construction; the bill provides domestic increases averaging about 4 percent once "emergency" funding above Bush's budget is included.

Democrats reversed cuts sought by Bush to heating subsidies, local law enforcement, Amtrak and housing, and reversed Bush's plan to eliminate the $654 million budget for grants to community-action agencies that help the poor.

To find the money, lawmakers shifted $6 billion from Bush's plans for defense, foreign aid, and base-construction accounts. Veterans would get $3.7 billion more than Bush requested, supplied on an "emergency" basis above Bush's budget cap.

Democrats also added funding for food programs, subsidies to community-development banks, and Homeland Security Department grants to first responders.

Democrats also touted increases for Social Security administrative costs aimed at reducing backlogs for disability claims.

They added $544 million above Bush's budget to battle AIDS overseas, and awarded a 16 percent boost to the National Endowment of the Arts, a frequent target of GOP conservatives. The chronically underfunded Consumer Product Safety Commission would get a 28 percent budget increase.

House GOP leaders issued a carefully worded statement saying they would oppose the bill yesterday - but leaving open the option to support it when it comes back for a final vote, as early as tomorrow.

Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group that opposed so-called pork-barrel projects, counted 8,983 such "earmarks" worth $7.4 billion.

Hometown pet projects include economic development grants, aid to local transit and police departments, and clean-water projects.

Family-Planning Aid Effort Ends

Unable to override

a veto promise, Democrats have backed down on their insistence that the 2008 foreign-aid budget reverse President Bush's ban on aid to family-

planning groups abroad that offer abortions.

A measure to ease

such restrictions was stripped this weekend from a $515.7 billion government-wide spending bill.

Congress is expected

to pass the bill this week. Democrats blamed the White House for threatening to block the bill if it included the measure, and blamed Republicans who agreed to back the president.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D., N.Y.)

, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, said: "This dogmatic adherence to an illogical position diminishes our influence around the world and prevents us from working effectively to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS and unintended pregnancies and reduce abortions."

Rep. Christopher H. Smith

(R., N.J.) said, "If we provide either cash or in-kind contributions or anything of value to pro-abortion organizations in other countries, we empower, enrich and enable them to expand abortion."

- Associated Press