A House bill filled with money for job training, health and education faces a veto from President Bush, who complains that Democratic add-ons have made it too expensive.
Some of the president's fellow Republicans, worried about re-election, say it's actually too skimpy.
The bill, containing $152 billion for social programs including special education, community health centers, Head Start and health research, cruised toward House passage yesterday.
The tally wouldn't be big enough to overcome a promised veto from the White House, which calls it "irresponsible and excessive" for busting Mr. Bush's budget by almost $13 billion.
That's hardly sentiment universally shared by House Republicans, who took to the floor over the past three days to complain of inadequate funding for special-education, health research and literacy promotion, among other programs.
The Senate has yet to act on companion legislation.
Rep. Michael N. Castle, a moderate Republican from Delaware, chided Democrats for increasing by less than 3 percent funding for research by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
"The amount ... would be almost the smallest increase for NIH in 38 years," Mr. Castle said. "New research opportunities will go unfunded. The number of new therapies will continue to decline."
Perhaps no other bill better defines the ongoing wrestling match over spending between Mr. Bush and Democrats controlling Congress. As they press ahead with the 12 spending bills for agency budgets and programs funded by Congress each year, Democrats are adding about $23 billion to Mr. Bush's budget, about a 5 percent increase for non-security-related domestic programs.
The 125-page bill — accompanied by a 429-page report — weaves increases long sought by Democrats into programs within the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education such as child care for the poor, the Healthy Start programs combating infant mortality and a $390 increase in the maximum Pell Grant for low-income college students. To build Republican support, there's a big boost for abstinence education.
The health and education measure passed yesterday consumed about half of Democrats' planned increases for domestic programs, providing increases for heating subsidies for the poor, rural health care, Pell Grants and grants for local schools.
"This bill, more than any other, determines how willing we are to make the investments necessary to assure the future strength of our country and its working families," said its principal author, House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat.
Moderate Republicans, often from swing districts, pressed for more.
"Increased federal special education funding is critically important," said Rep. Mike Ferguson, New Jersey Republican, who succeeded Wednesday in adding $50 million to the special-education budget.
Yesterday's debate largely was consumed by amendments by Republican conservatives futilely attempting to shave money from the legislation.
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