Congress Presents $500 Billion Spending Bill

Lawmakers unveil a $500 billion-plus catchall spending bill, reluctantly sticking within President Bush's budget but still protecting politically sensitive domestic programs from White House cuts. Eleven overdue spending bills will be rolled into one.

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Lawmakers yesterday unveiled a $500 billion catch-all spending bill. They stuck reluctantly with President Bush's budget, but they also tried to protect politically sensitive domestic programs. The stop-gap funding that's been keeping the government going expires this Friday. And it looks like the Democrats who do run Congress are ready to bow to the spending level that President Bush insists on - that rather than risk a potentially perilous shutdown of the government.

Eleven overdue spending bills will be rolled into one, though it's unclear what else might show up in this omnibus bill.

NPR's David Welna has the story.

DAVID WELNA: With the self-assurance of a man who has his adversary in a hammerlock, President Bush went to the Rose Garden on Friday and gave congressional Democrats some marching orders.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I urged them to pass a clean spending package that meets the reasonable spending levels I've put forward, without gimmicks, without policy riders that could not be enacted in the ordinary legislative process, and with much needed funding for our troops in combat. It would be disappointing if members of Congress did not finish their work by the holidays.

WELNA: Congressional Democrats seem to have concluded there are no other options. House Ways and Means Chairman David Obey says one way or another, there will be an omnibus spending bill before the House - possibly today - that can win President Bush's signature.

Representative DAVID OBEY (Democrat, Wisconsin; Chairman, House Ways and Means Committee): While none of us may be particularly enamored of the final result, I think that we are getting closer to having a result which can be supported by many people on both sides of the aisle - at least in the House itself.

WELNA: It's not clear, though, what the House might do when it comes to the $196 billion in war funding that President Bush wants. Last week, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi seemed to rule out putting any in the omnibus.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; Speaker of the House): We will not have on our House bill any more war funding.

WELNA: And Pelosi added she, for one, would refuse to vote for it if it's included in the Senate's version of the omnibus. The Democratic chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, said Friday, he's not ready to give up pushing for strings to be attached to the war funding.

Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan; Chair, Senate Armed Services Committee): I can't say the effort's over for this year until we see what is in that bill that's coming over from the House of Representatives.

WELNA: But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is confident he'll be able to include $70 billion of the war funding in the omnibus spending bill, with no strings attached.

Senator MITCH McCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky; Senate Minority Leader): In the end, there will be plenty of Democrats who will sign on to a strategy that allows the money to go forward for the troops and allows General Petraeus to continue to pursue a strategy that's working.

WELNA: By sticking with President Bush despite his low approval ratings, Senate Republicans have kept Democrats from garnering enough votes to proceed with much of their agenda. Washington Democrat Patty Murray says that's why her party's been forced to give in to President Bush's demand that spending not exceed $933 billion this fiscal year.

Senator PATTY MURRAY (Democrat, Washington State): The president isn't going to budge. He has said he will veto any number over that, and we're now trying to work out a way to come to a conclusion with this. And it is not going to be good for the American people. But the blame lies right with the president, who's willing to shut the government down in order to get a number.

WELNA: Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn says Democrats are finally coming to terms with political reality.

Senator JOHN CORNYN (Republican, Texas): They find themselves in this game of chicken, and it looks like they're beginning to come to the realization that the president's serious about what that top line should look like. And they realize they're going to get blamed if they continue not to do the business of the Congress.

WELNA: That business includes coming up with a fix for the Alternative Minimum Tax, and new rules to replace a temporary version of the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. The Senate takes that up today.

Here's Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Senator HARRY REID: (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): The Senate will work it will as to what needs to be done with FISA. I'll guarantee you right now one thing that's going to occur: not everyone will be happy.

WELNA: The same could well be said for the rest of what Congress aims to finish this week.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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