House approves $3.44 trillion budget resolution

The House on Wednesday approved a budget resolution measure by a vote of 233 to 193.
The House of Representatives passed a $3.44 trillion budget resolution for fiscal year 2010 Wednesday, approving most of President Obama’s key spending priorities and setting the federal government in a new direction with major increases for energy, education and health care programs.

The resolution, which was approved by a vote of 233 to 193, passed in a virtual party-line vote. All but 17 House Democrats supported it, and no House Republicans voted in favor. The measure passed two days after congressional Democrats reached an agreement reconciling earlier House and Senate versions of the budget package. The Senate is also expected to approve final passage of the compromise measure on Wednesday, Obama’s 100th day in office. “Today, for the first time in many, many years, we have a president’s budget … that is a statement of our national values,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said during the final debate on the House floor. “What is important to us as a nation is reflected in this budget. It’s a very happy day for our country.” Republicans said the budget reflected reckless taxing and spending priorities that would leave the country in a more fiscally precarious position. “Budgets are supposed to be about tough decisions, and there are no tough decisions in this budget,” said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.

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“It spends an awful lot of money, it raises a lot of taxes, and it puts all of this debt on the backs of our kids and grandkids. This is not the American way. The American way has been about a more limited government.” In one of the most contentious and politically polarizing decisions so far this year, Democratic budget negotiators decided to fast-track a key part of the budget process. Major health care reform is likely to pass this year, because the special process — known as budget reconciliation — won’t allow Republicans to filibuster the legislation, as was widely expected. Democrats, who control 59 seats in the Senate, will be able to pass it with a simple majority vote, instead of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-North Dakota, said he didn’t believe the Senate would need to use reconciliation, but noted that it is “there as an insurance policy.” Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming, speaking for most of his GOP Senate colleagues, warned earlier in the budget debate that if a health care “reconciliation winds up in the budget bill, it’ll be like a declaration of war.” Under the Democratic plan, the federal government will run an anticipated deficit of $1.2 trillion in the next fiscal year. Their plan promises to cut the deficit by more than half by 2012. “It is clear that more will be needed to address the long-term fiscal imbalance confronting the nation beyond the five-year budget window,” Conrad said. Under the compromise plan, increases in non-defense discretionary spending are limited to 2.9 percent through 2014. Obama’s signature tax cuts from the stimulus plan — $400 for individuals and $800 for couples — are slated to expire after 2010. The measure also allows former President George W. Bush’s tax cuts for couples who make more than $250,000 to expire in 2010. The budget compromise largely tracks the Obama administration’s initial $3.67 billion proposed spending plan, with the notable exception to drop his $250 billion request for potential future bailouts of struggling financial institutions. Fiscally conservative House Democrats, known as Blue Dogs, also negotiated with Democratic leaders to cut $10 billion from the president’s $540 billion request for non-defense discretionary spending. In an additional nod to her caucus’s conservatives, Pelosi and House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer sent a letter to Senate leaders “throwing down the gauntlet” to insist that a pay-as-you-go system be followed, which would require new federal spending to be offset with budget cuts or tax increases, a Democratic aide told CNN. Obama called for the so-called “PAYGO” legislation in his weekend radio address. The president also gathered his Cabinet members last week and challenged them to cut a total of $100 million in the next 90 days. In the context of the federal budget, $100 million in savings is a tiny amount, critics say. It is the equivalent, according to one example, of having a car dealer offer to shave $1 from the cost of a $36,700 vehicle. “Any amount of savings is obviously welcome,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said at the time. “But [$100 million is] about the average amount we’ll spend every single day just covering the interest on the stimulus package that we passed earlier this year.” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said ordinary Americans would nevertheless appreciate the savings effort. “Only in Washington, D.C., is $100 million not a lot of money. It is where I’m from. It is where I grew up. And I think it is for hundreds of millions of Americans.”