WASHINGTON - Congress gave final approval yesterday to a $3.1 trillion spending plan that proposes modest increases for domestic programs such as education, energy and veterans' benefits - and marks the first time in eight years that lawmakers have managed to adopt a budget in an election year.
Democrats hailed the feat as "a demonstration of our ability to govern effectively," in the words of House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D., Md.). Republicans acknowledged the accomplishment, which eluded Congresses under their control in 2006, 2004 and 2002, as well as in 1998. But they blasted Democrats for raising spending on government agencies to historic levels and for failing to slow the rampant growth of Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, potentially adding trillions to the national debt.
"It's a huge missed opportunity," Wisconsin Rep. Paul D. Ryan, senior Republican on the House Budget Committee, said during House debate. "We shouldn't be doing this to our children."
Committee Chairman John M. Spratt Jr. (D., S.C.) fired back that the blueprint aimed to balance the budget by 2012, erasing years of deficits racked up under a Republican president. "President Bush told the country we could have it all: guns, butter and tax cuts, too, and never mind the deficits," Spratt said.
The plan squeaked through the House, 214-210, as 14 Democrats voted with a united GOP in opposition. Earlier this week, the Senate gave its approval to the nonbinding resolution, which does not go to Bush for his signature but sets targets for a dozen annual appropriations bills.
Because Bush has vowed to veto appropriations bills that exceed his spending requests, Democrats are considering delaying passage of most of the bills until a new president takes office in January.
Under the budget framework adopted yesterday, congressional leaders would increase spending in fiscal 2009, which begins Oct. 1, by about $21 billion over Bush's request, with total spending on government agencies expected to top $1 trillion.
The extra funds would go to education and renewable-energy programs, as well as transportation infrastructure. Military veterans would get about $3.3 billion more than Bush requested, with much of that targeted for health care.
Democrats project a deficit of $340 billion next year, with deficits diminishing thereafter until the government produces a $22 billion surplus in 2012. But congressional leaders are counting on some unlikely circumstances to lift the government out of the red.
For example, the budget includes $70 billion next year for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and nothing thereafter, an unrealistic scenario. The blueprint also assumes that some of Bush's signature tax cuts will expire on schedule in 2010, bringing billions of additional dollars into the treasury.
How They Voted
Robert E. Andrews (D., N.J.), Robert A. Brady (D., Pa.), Tim Holden
(D., Pa.), Allyson Y. Schwartz (D., Pa.) and Joe Sestak (D., Pa.).
Michael N. Castle (R., Del.), Charles W. Dent (R., Pa.), Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.). Frank A. LoBiondo (R., N.J.), Patrick Murphy (D., Pa.), Joseph R. Pitts (R., Pa.), H. James Saxton (R., N.J.) and Christopher H. Smith (R., N.J.).
Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.).
- Inquirer staff
Highlights of '09 Blueprint
Calls for $3.1 trillion in total government outlays, including $1.1 trillion for defense and domestic programs and $70 billion for the Iraq and Afghan wars. Most of the rest would go to programs such as Medicare and Social Security, and to interest payments on the nearly $10 trillion debt.
Endorses a one-year "patch" of the alternative minimum tax so 20 million taxpayers don't get hit with tax increases. Calls for renewing several tax cuts expiring at the end of 2010, including the $1,000- per-child tax credit, marriage-penalty relief, estate-tax cuts and the
10 percent tax bracket. Tax cuts on income tax rates, capital gains and dividend income would expire.
Projects deficits of $394 billion in 2008, $340 billion in 2009, $210 billion in 2010, and $73 billion in 2011, and surpluses of $22 billion in 2012 and $10 billion in 2013.
- Associated Press