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House OKs spending bill, condemns political ad

Times Staff Writer

The House approved a stopgap spending measure on Wednesday designed to give Congress and President Bush more time to avert a budget meltdown, but only after Republicans forced Democrats to condemn a personal attack on the U.S. commander in Iraq.

The measure, expected to pass the Senate before the end of the week, was necessary because lawmakers have yet to send to the White House any of the 12 annual appropriations bills for the new fiscal year, which begins Monday.

In what is shaping up as the biggest budget fight in many years, Bush has threatened to veto most of the spending bills approved by the House, complaining they exceed what he is willing to spend by about $22 billion.

Democrats say they have restored funding for a number of programs that Bush has sought to cut, including education, anti-crime, housing and environmental programs. They also have increased funding for programs they say were neglected under the Republican-controlled Congress.

“The president would have the country believe that we are . . . pouring money into the domestic budget,” said Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.), the Appropriations Committee chairman. “I would suggest that restoring $16 billion in presidential cuts is mighty small potatoes in comparison to the $200 billion that he wants us to spend in Iraq.”

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The measure, approved 404 to 14, would keep the government operating at 2007 spending levels through Nov. 16.

Republicans, hoping to win back control of Congress by portraying the Democrats as do-nothings, needled the majority party for failing to send the president a single appropriations bill. “We are moving ever closer to a massive, year-end, omnibus spending bill,” said Rep. Jerry Lewis of Redlands, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee. “That course of action would be an admission of failure on the part of this Congress.”

Democrats pointed out that when Republicans were in charge they also failed to approve many of the appropriations bills before the start of the federal fiscal year.

Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson, president of the National League of Cities, said that the uncertainty over funding levels is “a cause for concern in communities across our nation.”

The House has passed all 12 spending bills. The Senate has passed four. But negotiations have yet to begin to reconcile the differences between those four bills.

Republicans used the spending measure as an opportunity to force a vote condemning a full-page Sept. 10 ad in the New York Times by the liberal group MoveOn.org that referred to Army Gen. David H. Petraeus as “General Betray Us.” The condemnation passed, 341 to 79. All the no votes were cast by Democrats.

Obey, who has pushed for U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq, voted for the condemnation.

“I come from the state of Joe McCarthy,” a reference to the former Republican Wisconsin senator infamous for his hunts for hidden communists in the government half a century ago. “I grew up in a Republican family, and one of the reasons I changed parties is because I saw what the local McCarthy supporters did to the best teacher I ever had when they impugned his patriotism by calling him a Bolshevik.”

Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara), who voted against the condemnation, said, “If Republicans worried as much about ending the war as they do about scoring cheap political points, then maybe we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in today.”

In response to the House vote, Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn.org’s political action committee, said, “Congress is fiddling with an ad while Iraq burns.”

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richard.simon@latimes.com


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