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Democrats bow to Bush’s budget spending limit

Times Staff Writer

In a bid to end a months-long budget feud with the White House, congressional Democratic leaders Wednesday agreed not to exceed President Bush’s spending limit.

Instead, Democrats drew up plans to boost funding for their priorities, perhaps at the expense of some of the president’s initiatives.

But their concession, to trim spending by another $11 billion to meet Bush’s $933-billion limit, could clear the way for Congress to complete work on an omnibus spending bill by next week.

The action underscored the restraints on the Democrats, who have narrow majorities in the House and Senate and who face a Republican president steadfast in his threat to use the veto.

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The Senate today is expected to approve an energy bill, but only after removing a number of key provisions opposed by the president.

The White House also sounded more conciliatory Wednesday, although it was unclear whether the president would accept the latest budget proposal.

“We are encouraged by reports of movement in the right direction,” said Sean Kevelighan, a spokesman for the White House budget office.

“But to know whether there is a bill the president can sign, we need to see details,” he said.

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One potential complication could be a Democratic effort to provide about $3.5 billion for veterans’ programs that could push spending over the limit.

Bush had warned Congress against lumping the remaining spending bills into a catchall measure.

But White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said, “We realize that now that the time is running short, they might not be able to get all those bills individually to him before they leave town for the holidays, and so they might have to have an omnibus.

“We’ll have to take a look at that,” she said.

The bill would roll 11 of the 12 annual spending bills into one package, funding all government agencies except the Pentagon.

Although the fiscal year began Oct. 1, Bush has signed only the $459-billion defense appropriations bill.

Both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue have been engaged in a war of words over spending.

Bush has been under pressure from deficit hawks to hold the line on spending.

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Democrats, writing their first spending bills since winning control of Congress a year ago, have sought to increase funding for health, education, environmental programs and other domestic priorities they believe were neglected under the Republican majority.

The government is operating on a stopgap spending measure that expires Friday, though Congress is expected to extend it by perhaps a week.

Democratic leaders, while agreeing to meet Bush’s limit, said they were working to shift funds to their priorities.

“We understand the president will veto anything above his overall number. That is why we are working on a bill to get to the president’s top-line number with Democratic priorities,” said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

The White House was in a strong bargaining position because Democrats were under pressure to complete work on a government-funding measure -- already 2 1/2 months late -- before adjourning for the year.

The Democrats risk leaving for the holidays without completing one of their most basic responsibilities and perhaps even causing a politically damaging government shutdown or furlough of federal workers.

The final bill is expected to include some of the money sought by the president for the war in Iraq, without conditions.

If it does, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said, “I certainly will be voting against it.”

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The House is expected to add $30 billion for military operations in Afghanistan, and Senate Republicans are likely to offer an amendment to provide $40 billion for the war in Iraq.

The bill is expected to fund a large number of projects sought by lawmakers from both parties for their states, a practice known as earmarking, which Bush has sought to cut.

Democrats also hope to include some additional spending over Bush’s limit by designating funds for emergencies such as border security and fire suppression.

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richard.simon@latimes.com


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