- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Democrats have introduced a massive spending bill combining the budgets of 13 Cabinet agencies with increases in aid for lower-income college students, while cutting President Bush’s funding requests for foreign aid and closing military bases.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, yesterday criticized Democrats’ plans to advance the huge $463.5 billion measure through the House today without giving Republicans or rank-and-file Democrats a chance to offer changes in an Appropriations Committee session or on the floor.

Most lawmakers — and the public — were to get their first chances to read the budget yesterday, barely a day before the House was supposed to vote it up or down.

“If we’re going to spend $463 billion of the taxpayers’ funds, we ought to have more than an hour’s worth of debate,” Mr. Boehner said. “And maybe the [Democratic] majority ought to let Democrats and Republicans offer amendments.”

Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat, had little sympathy, saying Republicans wouldn’t make tough budget choices before the November elections and didn’t try to clean up the mess afterward in a lame-duck session.

The bill would freeze most federal accounts at 2006 levels, though there are numerous exceptions so agencies can avoid furloughs and hiring freezes, and for a few programs favored by Democrats such as health research and education.

Politically sacrosanct programs such as medical care for veterans and active-duty military personnel eat up much of a $10 billion to $12 billion pot that staff aides scraped together by freezing other accounts. Veterans would receive $3.5 billion more than last year for medical coverage, while active-duty members and their families would benefit from a 6 percent increase.

Also among the beneficiaries is the National Institutes of Health, which would receive a $620 million budget increase, about 2 percent. The FBI, facing hiring curbs, would get a modest $200 million increase in its $6 billion budget.

The maximum Pell Grant award for lower-income college students would increase by $260 to $4,310. Although modest, it is the first increase since 2003.

Activists pressing for big boosts to combat AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis overseas won a $1.3 billion increase, to $4.5 billion. That is enough to fund the president’s $225 million initiative to fight malaria and increase the U.S. contribution to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to $724 million.

Mr. Bush’s request for the Millennium Challenge Corp., which channels foreign aid to countries implementing economic and political reforms, appears frozen.

Some of the president’s initiatives, such as a $5.5 billion request to implement a round of military base closures passed two years ago, absorbed deep cuts.

Negotiators cut $3 billion from Mr. Bush’s base-closing request, but may look to make up some of the shortfall in the $100 billion-plus Iraq funding bill scheduled to advance this spring.

Any spending package adopted by the House eventually also must make it through the Senate.

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