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Congress approves $3 trillion budget during election year

WASHINGTON – Congress gave final approval Thursday to a $3 trillion spending plan that proposes modest increases for domestic programs such as education, energy and veterans benefits – and marks the first time in eight years that lawmakers have managed to adopt a budget in an election year.

Democrats hailed the feat as “a demonstration of our ability to govern effectively,” in the words of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. Republicans acknowledged the accomplishment, which eluded Congresses under their control in 2006, 2004 and 2002, as well as in 1998. But they blasted Democrats for raising spending on government agencies to historic levels and for failing to slow the rampant growth of Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, potentially adding trillions to the national debt.

The spending plan squeaked through the House on a vote of 214 to 210, as 14 Democrats voted with a united GOP in opposition. Earlier this week, the Senate gave its approval to the nonbinding resolution, which does not go to the president for his signature but sets targets for a dozen annual appropriations bills.

Because Bush has vowed to veto appropriations bills that exceed his spending requests, Democrats are considering delaying passage of most of the bills until a new president takes office in January.

Under the budget framework adopted Thursday, congressional leaders would increase spending in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 by about $21 billion over Bush’s request, with total spending on government agencies expected to top $1 trillion for the first time. The extra funds would go to education and renewable energy programs, as well as transportation infrastructure. Military veterans would get about $3.3 billion more than Bush requested, with much of the money targeted for health care.

Democrats project a deficit of $340 billion next year, with deficits diminishing thereafter until the government produces a $22 billion surplus in 2012. But, as with Bush’s five-year plan to balance the budget, congressional leaders are counting on some unlikely circumstances to lift the government out of the red.

For example, the budget includes $70 billion next year for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and nothing thereafter, an unrealistic scenario even if a Democrat wins the White House and moves quickly to pull troops out of Iraq.

Budget blueprint

Spending. Calls for $3.1 trillion in total government outlays, including $1.1 trillion for defense and domestic programs funded through appropriations bills and $70 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Benefit programs such as Medicare and Social Security, as well as interest payments on the national debt, account for most of the rest.

Taxes. Endorses a one-year “patch” of the alternative minimum tax so more than 20 million taxpayers don’t get hit with tax increases averaging $2,000 a year. Calls for renewing several tax cuts expiring at the end of 2010, including the $1,000 per child tax credit, marriage penalty relief, estate tax cuts and the 10 percent tax bracket. Tax cuts on income tax rates, capital gains and dividend income would expire.

Deficits. Projects deficits of $394 billion in 2008, $340 billion in 2009, $210 billion in 2010 and $73 billion in 2011, and surpluses of $22 billion in 2012 and $10 billion in 2013.

Associated Press