- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 17, 2004


A divided Senate approved an $800 billion increase in the federal debt limit yesterday, a major boost in borrowing that Sen. John Kerry and other Democrats blamed on the fiscal policies of President Bush.

The 52-44 vote, which mostly followed party lines, was expected to be followed by House passage today.

The two Democrats voting to raise the ceiling were Sen. John B. Breaux of Louisiana and Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia. Only one Republican did not support the measure — Sen. John Ensign of Nevada. Four Democrats did not vote.

Enactment would raise the government’s borrowing limit to $8.18 trillion — more than eight times the total federal debt that existed when President Reagan took office in 1981.

In his first remarks on the Senate floor since his presidential bid ended in defeat two weeks ago, Mr. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, said his former opponent had presided over “the worst fiscal turnaround in our nation’s entire history.”

He was referring to the change from the $5.6 trillion in surpluses that were projected for the next 10 years when Mr. Bush took office in 2001 to the $2.3 trillion in deficits now estimated for the coming decade. Mr. Kerry and other Democrats complained that those bills will have to be paid by future generations.

“This can be called a birth tax, a birth tax that is dumped on the back of every American child unwillingly,” said Mr. Kerry, who voted against the borrowing increase.

Republican senators did not join in the debate, underscoring how politically awkward the measure is.

Administration officials urged lawmakers to act quickly. The government reached its $7.38 trillion borrowing cap last month, and since then, the Treasury Department has paid federal bills by taking cash from a civil-service retirement account, which it plans to repay.

“We are nearing the end of our rope, and it is critical that Congress act,” said Treasury spokesman Rob Nichols.

Failure to raise the debt ceiling could force a federal default and leave the government unable to pay Social Security recipients, federal workers and other obligations.

The Senate’s debt-limit vote came as congressional bargainers used the lame-duck session to continue writing a giant $388 billion spending measure to finance scores of agencies over the next 10 months.

That package — a combination of nine separate spending bills — will finance the heart of the government’s domestic programs, paying for everything except the departments of Defense and Homeland Security.

The measures were supposed to have been approved by Oct. 1, when the government’s budget year began.

Democrats complained that the bill — which will let nondefense, nondomestic security programs grow by about 2 percent next year — was too stingy. They said clean-water grants, the National Science Foundation and federal subsidies for hiring local police officers were all being cut from last year.

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