Democrats controlling the Senate and House face unusually few obstacles as they prepare to shape a compromise $1.46 trillion federal budget for 1992 that ignores many of President Bush's proposals.
The Senate approved its spending plan late Thursday, a fiscal blueprint that tracks quite closely the version the House approved April 17, and puts a Democratic stamp on the year's spending priorities.Both outlines reject Bush's call for $46 billion in slashes over the next five years to the Medicare health-insurance program for the elderly, farm payments and other benefit programs. They also shift about $3 billion from science, space and law enforcement programs to education, transportation and health initiatives.
"The resolutions bear a very close similarity," Budget Committee Chairman James Sasser, D-Tenn., said shortly after the Senate adopted its spending plan on a voice vote. He said Senate-House bargaining over a compromise budget "should go harmoniously and expeditiously."
The two chambers will begin their negotiations after the Senate returns from a one-week recess in early May.
The final budget does not require the president's signature. It serves as a road map for later spending bills, and most of the spending figures it contains are advisory, not binding.
Because of last year's deficit-reduction deal - which set limits on defense, domestic and foreign-aid spending - most of the difficult decisions have already been made.
In years past, the two chambers have battled for weeks over whether money should be increased in one spending category at the expense of another. Often, the more liberal House has preferred lower defense spending than the Senate.
But this year, the Senate and House budgets are largely similar - and greatly resemble the spending outline Bush unveiled in February for the 1992 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
All three plans would spend about $295 billion for defense and about $18 billion for foreign aid. They would spend about $211 billion for all domestic programs, excluding benefit programs like Medicare and Social Security.
None provides any expensive new domestic initiatives in view of near-record deficits. The House and Senate plans contain shortfalls of nearly $290 billion, about $10 billion higher than Bush's proposal.
The two congressional plans contain no tax increases or reductions. They ignore Bush's call for several minor tax increases and breaks, including his perennial quest for a reduction in the tax rate on capital gains, or investment profits.
Perhaps the greatest difference between the two congressional budgets is a Senate provision allowing for higher Social Security benefits for so-called notch babies - people born between the years 1917 and 1926.
The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., would cost $22 billion over 10 years. Each of the 10 million living "notch babies" would get a $1,000 lump-sum payment, and their benefits would be increased gradually over 10 years, Reid said.