House Approves Domestic Spending

By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The House last night approved a $515.7 billion domestic spending measure that shaves billions from spending levels desired by Democrats and uses emergency spending and other tactics to challenge President Bush on his budget demands.

The legislation, which passed 253 to 154, funds every agency of government but the Defense Department for fiscal 2008. The House then voted 206 to 201 to approve an amendment that includes $31 billion for fighting in Afghanistan but none for the war in Iraq.

Today, the Senate is likely to take up resolutions tying Iraq war funding to the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops. If those fall victim to Republican filibusters, as expected, senators are likely to vote to increase the House's war funding to $70 billion and make it available for Iraq fighting as well. Without such war funds, the president will veto the entire spending bill, the White House said yesterday.

Aside from that outstanding issue, the Bush administration said it is "pleased" with the final spending level, even with the added billions for "emergency" spending on border security, care for veterans and other long-anticipated issues.

"I'm pleased to report that we're making some pretty good progress toward coming up with a fiscally sound budget -- one that meets priorities, helps on some emergencies and enables us to say that we've been fiscally sound with the people's money," Bush told an audience yesterday in Fredericksburg.

Republicans said they were somewhat surprised by the response from the White House, which has spent months gearing up for a battle with the Democratic-controlled Congress over spending -- first rejecting bills that would spend $22 billion more than Bush requested and then rebuffing an offer to cut that level to $11 billion more.

But by designating funding for border security, veterans' care, nutrition assistance, even security for political conventions, as "emergencies," House Democrats in the end produced a spending package that exceeded the president's spending limit by $11 billion.

Conservatives in and out of Congress criticized the 1,482-page bill. They blasted the measure's 8,983 home-district and home-state pet projects, known as earmarks, and condemned a few remaining policy changes, including a measure to protect some national forest land from logging and another severing overseas AIDS relief from abstinence-education mandates. The package also lifts a longtime prohibition on the District of Columbia's spending money on needle exchanges for intravenous drug users.

"In trying to push through a half-trillion dollars in government spending this evening, Democrats will claim their bottom-line numbers are in line with the president's, and their top-line priorities are in line with the American people's," said House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). "But as page after page of this massive document makes plain, neither contention is true."

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) called the measure "troubling and unacceptable." Conservative Republicans in the Senate and House implored Bush to veto the final measure.

But they were not the only ones unhappy with the final product. In their struggle to meet White House demands while preserving some of their priorities, Democratic leaders made changes to their initial spending bills that seemed to anger everyone. Environmentalists were annoyed by a provision allowing the Energy Department to guarantee loans to energy companies for the development of liquid coal and nuclear projects that otherwise could not receive bank financing.

"This is the mother of all gift cards to the nuclear and coal industry," said Anna Aurilio, Washington director of Environment America.

NARAL Pro-Choice America, an abortion rights group, lamented that Democrats had given up ending a Bush administration policy that prevents federal aid from going to international family-planning organizations that offer abortions.

Even Democratic leaders were only mildly supportive of the compromise measure they had forged in hopes of winning the president's signature before Christmas. "In an adult world, win, lose or draw, we have an obligation to complete our work," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (D-Wis.). "In an adult world, we have an obligation to compromise and move on."

"While the president's stubborn opposition will deny Americans the full investment they deserve in these priorities, the Democratic budget begins to reverse seven years of neglect and charts a new direction," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

To get the bill to the president, Democratic leaders are counting on some parliamentary legerdemain.

Once Senate Republicans add billions for the war in Iraq, without demanding changes in war policy, the measure will lose the support of many Democrats who had vowed never again to approve more war funding unless the money helps pull out U.S. troops. Even Pelosi is likely to vote against the final version of the bill.

So Democrats will need strong Republican support later this week to pass a war funding amendment and get those war funds to Bush.

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