House Passes Omnibus Spending Measure

Congress and the president were poised to resolve their months-long dispute over funding for the war in Iraq after the House passed a $516 billion omnibus spending measure to fund 14 Cabinet agencies and troops in Afghanistan. If the Senate can add $40 billion to the bill to fund troops in Iraq, the White House is likely to approve it.

Senate leaders would like to wrap up debate Tuesday, though GOP conservatives may balk, unhappy with spending above Bush's budget and a secretive process that produced a 1,482-page bill that includes plenty of legislative pork.

Nobody seemed thrilled with the catchall spending plan that House leaders rushed to a vote late Monday.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) sounded resigned that Democrats did not get all they had hoped for from the appropriations process.

But he said the compromise was inescapable given the president's repeated veto threats of the Democrat's plan to spend $22 billion more than the White House domestic budget request.

"I have observed that this president thought his budget sent down on tablets, not paper," Hoyer said.

House Democrats did draw the line on war spending. The omnibus bill has $31 billion for Afghanistan, but prohibits money from being used for operations in Iraq.

The Senate is expected to add money for Iraq when it takes up the spending bill as early as Tuesday.

President Bush cited progress on what he called a fiscally sound budget and indicated he could sign the bill as long as it includes funding for Iraq with no strings attached.

To meet the president's spending cap, Democrats shifted some $6 billion away from programs the White House favored. Defense, foreign aid and military base construction accounts were shaved to boost housing, education and health care, among other things. The measure also includes some $7 billion in emergency funding for veterans health care, border security and drought relief.

The late-session deal after months of confrontation could be costly to both sides, even though the president appears to have the upper hand at the moment, according to James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University.

"I think the American people are showing their ire by their evaluation of the president as well as (the) institution of Congress. They're both in the high 20s now, which is a historic" low, Thurber said.

Democrats do not have the two-thirds majority they need to override a presidential veto, and they lack the 60 votes needed to prevent Republican filibusters in the Senate.

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