US Congress pass 3.5-trln-dlr budget plan

By AFP

July 15, 2010 Updated Apr 3, 2009 at 2:01 AM CDT

The Democratic-ruled US Congress passed a 3.5-trillion-dollar budget blueprint that signals broad support for President Barack Obama's climate change and healthcare overhaul ambitions.

The House of Representatives voted 233-196 to approve the budget plan, without a single vote from Republicans, who offered an alternate approach that would slash taxes and restrict spending that Democrats say is critical to reviving the US economy.

The Senate approved a similar version that was adopted 55-43, again along party lines. Vice President Joe Biden, in his role as president of the Senate, presided over the vote.

The vote amounted to a victory for the president -- even though he does not sign the framework and bitter legislative battles on his main priorities are yet to come.

The House and Senate will reconcile their versions of the plan, which is a non-binding spending framework that sets the stage for actual spending legislation later in the year -- when all sides expect pitched battles on the president's climate change and health care policies.

Obama's Democratic majority slightly streamlined his spending proposals for the fiscal year that starts October 1 amid Republican warnings about bloated spending and the exploding national debt.

"This responsible budget will start cleaning up the mistakes of the past and make critical investments in our future," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement.

"The Senate's budget reflects the fundamental priorities proposed by President Obama and recognizes that we cannot recover unless we make healthcare and education better and more affordable and reduce our reliance on oil."

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer called the budget "a key part of our return to prosperity" that "provides the long-term investments that will make prosperity last."

But Republican Minority Leader John Boehner denounced the plan as "a road map to disaster," highlighting skyrocketing budget deficits that balloon the US national debt.

His Senate counterpart, Mitch McConnell, said the budget "puts the economy on an unsustainable course.

It "clears the way for massive amounts of spending, for the biggest tax hike in history and a doubling of our already crippling national debt," he added.

Obama, in London attending a crunch meeting of the Group of 20 developed and developing nations, hailed the House vote as "another step toward rebuilding our struggling economy."

"This budget resolution embraces our most fundamental priorities: an energy plan that will end our dependence on foreign oil and spur a new clean energy economy; an education system that will ensure our children will be able to compete in the economy of the 21st century; and health care reform that finally confronts the back-breaking costs" plaguing Americans, he said in a statement.

Obama has disputed a grim Congressional Budget Office warning that the federal budget deficit could hit 1.845 trillion dollars this year under the Obama proposal, quadrupling the 2008 record shortfall and reaching to 13.1 percent of the total US economic output.

The House resolution would trim the deficit to 1.2 trillion dollars in 2010, compared to the president's figure of 1.4 trillion.

Obama said that "by making hard choices and challenging the old ways of doing business, we will cut in half the budget deficit we inherited within four years."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hailed the vote, citing increased commitments to education; better treatment of military veterans and health care for Americans; reduction of the deficit and increase in energy production; and tax cuts.

"It is a day that we have waited for, worked for, hoped for, and now we will be able to pass a budget that truly is a statement of our national values," she said.

About twenty House Democrats and two Senate Democrats voted against the budget resolution.

Republican Congressman Jeb Hensarling of Texas slammed the House vote as a bloated blueprint for spending on government projects that are bound to plunge the country further into debt.

"Never in the history of America have so few voted so fast to indebt so many," Hensarling said.

Obama in his statement acknowledged that compromise would be needed to finalize the budget.

"With this vote comes an obligation to pursue our efforts to go through the budget line-by-line, searching for additional savings," the president said.

"Like the families we serve, we must cut the things we don't need to invest in those we do."

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