Senate passes spending plan

The House will likely oppose the additional spending in the plan.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate on Thursday passed an election-year budget plan forsaking President Bush's tax cuts and Medicare curbs, hours after lifting the ceiling on the national debt to $9 trillion.
The spending blueprint, approved 51-49, barely resembles Bush's proposal last month for the budget year that begins Oct. 1.
To the disappointment of budget hawks, the Senate's measure would break Bush's proposed caps on spending for programs such as education, low-income heating subsidies and health research.
Vice President Dick Cheney was on hand for a possible tie-breaking vote, but that proved unnecessary.
Senators earlier voted 52-48 to send Bush a measure that would allow the government to borrow an additional $781 billion and prevent a first-ever default on Treasury notes.
As a result, the government could pay for the war in Iraq without raising taxes or cutting popular domestic programs.
War and relief aid
The House, meanwhile, overwhelmingly approved a $92 billion measure that would provide more money for the war in Iraq and hurricane relief for the Gulf Coast.
The budget blueprint advanced without Cheney's vote in the Republican-led Senate when Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu supported the plan after winning concessions to help her hurricane-damaged state of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast.
She won inclusion of a proposal that could provide up to $2 billion a year for levee and coastal restoration projects. The money would come from auctioning television airwaves to wireless companies and from potential oil lease revenues from exploration in an Alaskan wildlife refuge.
Among the specific votes for the budget plan were:
$3 billion more for heating subsidies for the poor. It passed 51-49.
$7 billion more for education, health and worker safety accounts. It passed 73-27.
$1.2 billion more for aviation security and stopping Bush's proposed increase in airline ticket taxes. They advanced by voice vote.
$1 billion more for benefits for military survivors.
The votes Thursday set up a confrontation with the House, which is certain to oppose the additional spending.
In fact, the Senate's moves appear to make it less likely that Congress will settle on a final budget plan this spring. House Republicans will not release their budget until after next week's congressional recess.
The votes dismayed deficit hawks such as Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H. He already had decided to drop Bush's proposals to cut the growth of Medicare, strengthen tax-free health savings accounts and advance legislation to make permanent his 2001 tax cuts.
Republicans are eager to show their conservative supporters that they are getting serious about cracking down on spending. Last weekend, GOP presidential aspirants at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Memphis, Tenn., promised to be more thrifty with the people's money.
Republican support
But GOP moderates such as Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania apparently did not get the message. His amendment to add $7 billion for education, health and labor programs won support from most Republicans, including Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, who has criticized Congress for embarking "down a wayward path of wasteful Washington spending."
"All the talk in Memphis just doesn't comport with the realities of these important items" such as education and health research, Specter said.
The debt limit increase was the fourth of Bush's presidency, totaling $3 trillion. With the budget deficit expected to approach $400 billion for both this year and next, an additional increase in the debt limit almost certainly will be required next year.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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