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House passes $516 billion spending bill

WASHINGTON – Seeking to end a months-long standoff with President Bush, the House on Monday night approved an omnibus $516 billion spending bill that hews closely to the White House’s budget limits but shifts billions of dollars to the Democratic majority’s priorities.

The 1,482-page measure, which would fund most of the federal government for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, was approved 253-154.

Lawmakers then voted 206-201 to add $31 billion for military operations in Afghanistan, but the bill includes no money for the war in Iraq. The Senate, as early as today, is expected to add $40 billion for Iraq. The bill would then return a final time to the House.

House Democrats came up with the political two-step to allow anti-war members to first vote for a budget that increases popular programs, then against one with war money. The bill is expected to pass the House the second time on the strength of Republican votes.

The catch-all spending bill is needed because only one of the 12 annual spending bills – the one that funds the Pentagon – has been signed into law. The other 11 bills, which fund all of the other federal agencies, are wrapped into the package.

Some Democrats made clear their displeasure with having to settle for less money for their priorities or risk a continued showdown that could shut down the government, which is operating on a stopgap measure that expires Friday.

“In the face of an intransigent president and his allies in Congress, this legislation is the best we can do for the American people,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

The White House threatened a veto Monday because the bill “fails to provide the needed funding for our troops in combat,” but indicated it was pleased that Democrats cut their spending demands, a signal Bush is likely to approve it when the war money is added.

“We are on the verge of having a spending package the president may be able to sign,” said Rep. Jerry Lewis, of California, top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee.

The bill would increase funding for Democratic priorities, sometimes at the expense of Bush initiatives.

The bill, for example, would provide $5 billion, or $544 million more than Bush requested, to combat AIDS around the world, while giving the president $1.5 billion, about half of what the president wanted, for the Millennium Challenge Account, a favorite program of his aimed at spurring economic and political reforms in foreign countries in exchange for aid.

It also provides about $1.7 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, a $248 million increase for a program the White House had wanted to cut, while providing $145 million less than Bush requested to enlarge the nation’s oil reserve.


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