WASHINGTON The White House said Monday it was encouraged by concessions made by Democrats over the weekend as they crafted a $500 billion-plus catchall spending bill. The year-end measure mostly sticks within President Bush's budget even as it shifts billions of dollars into politically sensitive domestic programs he sought to cut.
White House spokesman Tony Fratto said officials still needed to comb through the mammoth 1,482-page bill, but that White House objections to Democratic policy riders such as an attempt to ease restrictions on aid to overseas family planning groups that provide abortions appeared to have been taken care of.
The bill wraps together the budgets for every Cabinet department except the Pentagon and is expected to pass Congress this week to allow lawmakers to head home for Christmas. The result is a defeat for Democrats, who had spent months on legislation to add $27 billion to domestic programs, an almost 7 percent increase.
Bush sought a much smaller increase, less than 1 percent, for domestic programs other than military base construction; the Democratic bill provides more than a 3 percent increase, including "emergency" funding above Bush's budget.
Democrats succeeded in reversing cuts sought by President Bush to heating subsidies, local law enforcement, Amtrak and housing as well as Bush's plan to eliminate the $654 million budget for grants to community action agencies that help the poor.
To find the money, lawmakers shifted $6 billion from Bush's plans for defense, foreign aid and military base construction accounts. And they've added $2 billion in future-year appropriations for education that, for practical purposes, adds to Bush's 2008 budget. Veterans would get $3.7 billion more than Bush requested, but only if he changes his mind and decides the money is needed.
Democrats were able to put their imprint on the bill, saving programs such as the $140 million Commodity Supplemental Food Program, targeted for elimination by Bush but given a 30 percent budget hike by Democrats. The program provides nutritionally balanced boxes of food to about a half-million mostly elderly poor people per month.
The bill is "totally inadequate to meet the long-term investment needs of the country, but it is a whole lot better than the country would have had had it not elected a Democratic House last year," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis.
Democrats touted, for instance, increases for Social Security administrative costs aimed at reducing backlogs for disability claims, $544 million above Bush's budget to battle AIDS overseas, and a 16 percent boost for the National Endowment of the Arts, a frequent target of GOP conservatives. The chronically underfunded Consumer Product Safety Commission would get a 28 percent hike in its budget.
Conservative Republicans were generally expected to opposed the measure.
"This is a really bad deal," said Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. "Instead of passing a clean bill, Democrats have packed it full of controversial policy riders, wasteful earmarks, and budget gimmicks that add billions in additional domestic spending over the president's level."
The measure caps months of battling with Bush over the one-sixth of the budget passed each year by Congress for domestic programs such as education, food aid, and low-income housing. Bush steadfastly refused to negotiate with Congress over a cap of $933 billion for all such discretionary appropriations, which include the $459 billion defense budget bill enacted last month. Democrats sought $23 billion above Bush's cap.
In the final wave of cuts, White House priorities took a whack. Abstinence education increases, awarded to Republicans as incentive for their support of earlier bills, felt the axe. Bush's top foreign aid initiative, the Millennium Challenge Corp. that provides aid to countries making economic and democratic gains, is cut $208 million below 2007 levels, to $1.5 billion, half of Bush's request.
The bill was posted on the House Rules Committee Web site after midnight on Monday, and Democrats promised lawmakers and the public would have at least 24 hours to read it before a House vote. Republicans are certain to protest that they need more time to scrutinize it for questionable items, controversial policy add-ons and pork barrel projects.
The measure includes $31 billion for operations in Afghanistan and some domestic Pentagon needs, but no funding for Iraq.But Republicans are expected to add up to $40 billion for Iraq when the Senate debates the bill. The House would have to pass it again over objections from anti-war Democrats.
On the Net: House Appropriations Committee: appropriations.house.gov
House Appropriations Committee: appropriations.house.gov