In two days of debate, there was plenty of political theater, complete with props ranging from colorful charts to the four walnut shells used by Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) to illustrate what he called the Republican "shell game" on spending. But there was little of the drama that marked last year's budget fight, when the Republican leadership had to keep the vote open for nearly an hour -- and persuade a Democrat to join them -- to win a close vote. This year, GOP conservatives and moderates fell into line to pass the spending blueprint.
Democrats attacked the budget for shortchanging seniors, veterans, medical research, environmental programs and transportation.
GOP no longer stands for Grand Old Party, said Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), but "Get Old People." In an angry floor speech, he accused Republicans of slashing spending for medical research and Medicaid to give tax cuts to Americans in "the upper 2%" income brackets.
"Watch out, Grandma! Watch out, Grandpa!" Markey shouted on the House floor as he brandished a "Get Old People" sign. "Tax cuts for the wealthiest are sacrosanct!"
The Budget Committee chairman, Rep. Jim Nussle (R-Iowa), was unmoved. Dismissing Democratic allegations as ludicrous, he said the Republican budget preserved domestic spending levels while increasing funding for defense and homeland security. The Democrats' only solution for cutting deficits is raising taxes, he said.
"Tax cuts didn't cause the deficits," Nussle said again and again. "It's spending, it's spending, it's spending that gets us into deficit."
With the economy now recovering from recession, Nussle said, "two things we cannot do ... kill the economy [with tax increases] or continue the increases in spending."
Under the House plan, $418 billion -- 7% higher than the 2004 figure -- would go toward defense spending. In addition, the House budgeted $50 billion for expenses related to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The White House budget did not include money for operations in those countries.
The House version budgets $33 billion for homeland security -- more than 10% higher than the fiscal 2004 figure, but 0.5% less than the increase the president sought. Domestic programs other than homeland security would be held to $369 billion, the same as this year and $1.3 billion less than Bush sought.
The House also trimmed $4 billion from Bush's $30-billion international affairs request. International hunger and poverty organizations have said they fear those cuts will be taken out of Bush's Millennium Challenge Account, meant to spur political and economic reforms in Third World countries in exchange for aid, and out of efforts to combat AIDS.
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Comparing the budgets
In the $2.41-trillion budget that the House passed Thursday, the deficit will be cut in half by 2009.
Totals $2.37 trillion with a $358 billion shortfall
Deficit Cut $477 billion to $258 billion by 2009
Tax cuts $181 billion over five years costing $1.3 trillion over 10 years
Totals $2.36 trillion with a $341 billion shortfall
Deficit Cut to $223 billion by 2007, $200 billion by 2009
Tax cuts $142 billion in five years, but only $81 billion in cuts likely enacted
Totals $2.41 trillion with a $378 billion shortfall
Deficit Cut to $236 billion by 2008, $235 billion by 2009
Tax cuts $146 billion in five years with $138 billion in cuts likely enacted
Sources: House Budget Committee, White House Office of Management and Budget, Senate Budget Committee, Associated Press