Congress to vote today on spending bill |

Congress to vote today on spending bill

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – White House and congressional bargainers agreed to the last details of an overdue $388 billion spending bill late Friday, a measure that would slice President Bush’s priorities and curb a wide range of programs.

Leaders were hoping the House and Senate would approve the mammoth measure today and edge Congress toward the end of its weeklong postelection session.

Clearing the last problems shortly before midnight, lawmakers agreed to drop language opposed by the White House limiting Bush’s plan to let private firms compete for some civil servants’ jobs, congressional aides said.

Not everybody was happy. Nine female senators, all but one Democrats, were upset over a House-passed provision making it easier for hospitals and other health care providers to refuse to provide abortions, pay for them or offer abortion counseling.

From the bill’s modest education increases to its near-halving of Bush’s foreign aid request for countries that embrace democratic change, the package is a vivid illustration of how the politics of surging deficits has crimped domestic programs.

To the dismay of outnumbered Democrats and many Republicans, the measure complied with overall spending limits Bush demanded partly by trimming every program by about 0.83 percent. That figure was raised slightly in final talks to pay for more money for NASA and other late changes.

“Everybody took hits,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., a chief author of the measure. “There will be members who aren’t totally satisfied, but we we’re committed to stay within the budget number.”

Overall, the dozen Cabinet departments and scores of agencies covered would get 2 percent more than last year. The Defense and Homeland Security departments received 7.4 percent boosts in earlier bills, not counting the tens of billions the Pentagon got for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Even so, aides said the measure was stocked with thousands of economic development, water and other projects for lawmakers’ home districts. Young said he and other leaders rejected another $20 billion in colleagues’ spending requests.

Congress prepared to debate the bill hours after Bush signed an $800 billion increase in the federal borrowing debt limit, another testament to the feeble condition of the government’s books.

The measure, which narrowly cleared Congress this week, paves the way for the third major borrowing increase since Bush took office. It pushed the debt ceiling to $8.18 trillion, or two-thirds the value of all the shares on the New York Stock Exchange.