- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 18, 2006

The House was expected to approve a $2.7 trillion budget blueprint early this morning, after Republican leaders promised the more liberal wing of their party some increase in health and education spending.

“We have the votes, and we expect to pass it late evening or early morning,” said Ron Bonjean, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican.

Approval of the nonbinding blueprint for 2007 spending comes after weeks of negotiations between Republican leaders and their members. Leaders were forced to pull the bill from the floor last month because they lacked the votes.

Negotiations in the past few weeks centered mainly on the party’s more-liberal members, who wanted $7 billion more for health, education and related programs. Leaders ended up agreeing to shift $4.1 billion from defense and foreign operations to education and health, and promising to try to find the rest of the $7 billion request later in the spending process. That spending also would have to be paid for by shifting money from elsewhere in the budget, however.

Rep. Michael N. Castle of Delaware, lead negotiator for the Republican liberals, said the deal brought him and several other lawmakers on board.

While the budget bill is not binding, it gave the parties a chance to highlight their differences.

Democrats railed that Mr. Bush yesterday signed $70 billion in tax-cut extensions for the rich while the Republicans’ budget would shortchange key social programs for the middle class.

They also seized on the fact that the budget has a provision to raise the national debt automatically by $653 billion.

“Sign a tax cut, have a fundraiser, raise the national debt again; that’s the fiscal record of this majority,” said Rep. Earl Pomeroy, North Dakota Democrat, who complained that Republicans have raised the debt limit by $3.7 trillion since 2002.

“You talk a good game, but you don’t play a good game,” House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, told Republicans.

“I find it surreal to be lectured on spending by a Democrat,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, Texas Republican.

Republicans said the tax-cut extension bill signed yesterday prevents a huge tax increase, and the budget bill wisely holds down most spending.

The bill would stick to President Bush’s $873 billion cap on discretionary spending, which includes increases for defense and homeland security but a virtual freeze on everything else. Conservatives demanded that the bill stick to that. The bill also assumes $228 billion in tax cuts over five years.

“We can’t continue to spend our kids’ and their kids’ inheritance,” said House Majority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

The Senate blew past Mr. Bush’s limit by $16 billion when passing its budget in March, making it seem unlikely that the two chambers can agree on a final version.

But Republican leaders barreled ahead with the budget blueprint in part because the House was slated to start considering the first of 11 2007 spending bills this week, and Republicans said it’s crucial to have spending parameters in place first.

The budget measure does not go along with Mr. Bush’s proposed cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlement programs. It dedicates $50 billion to Iraq and Afghanistan — less than half of what’s expected to be spent this year.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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