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House Democrats refigure GOP budget

January 31, 2007|Joel Havemann | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — When President Bush and a Republican-led Congress took power six years ago, they began to undo some of President Clinton's legacy from his eight years in office.

Tuesday, the Democrats who now run Congress turned the tables.

House Democrats sent to the floor a spending measure that substituted some of their priorities for those that Republicans put in the nine appropriations bills they failed to pass last year.

The measure, which would keep the government running through September, only tinkered around the edges. The bill would appropriate $463.5 billion for government programs -- the same sum Republicans set aside last year -- and would redirect about $10 billion of that amount.

Bigger changes are in the offing for the 2008 budget year. On Monday, when Bush submits his proposals for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, Democrats for the first time in his presidency will take the lead on rewriting the budget to their liking.

The spending bill for the current fiscal year would complete the work Republicans left undone last year, when they passed just two of the 11 annual spending bills before the session ended.

In the bill, healthcare for veterans, notably those wounded in Iraq, got the biggest boost -- $3.6 billion more than the 2006 spending level. The Defense Department would also get an additional $1.2 billion to provide healthcare to active-duty personnel -- again, including Iraq war casualties.

The Education Department came out $1.5 billion to the good.

For college students, the maximum Pell grant would rise from $4,050 a year, where it has been for four years, to $4,310. For elementary schools and high schools whose students didn't meet the standards of the No Child Left Behind Act, the government would provide new assistance totaling $125 million.

The National Institutes of Health, which had feared it would have to cut back on its research grants, received an extra $600 million, enough to support 500 new grants.

To compensate for increased spending in some areas, the bill would cut $10 billion in small amounts from more than 60 programs.

The bill was written by the chairmen of the two appropriations committees, Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.), without Republican consultation.

Democratic leaders allotted only one hour for floor debate on the bill before a vote by the full House today. The Senate will have to follow close behind; the government's current spending authority, which allows it to spend for most programs at last year's rates, expires Feb. 15.

House Republicans protested how little time they were given to examine and debate the 137-page bill.

"We are going to spend $463 billion of the taxpayers' funds," said Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio. "We ought to have more than an hour's worth of debate."

"What are they afraid of?" asked Adam H. Putnam of Florida, chairman of the House Republican Conference. "What's in that bill that they don't want us to see?"

Obey blamed the Republicans for making the expedited procedures necessary by failing last year to pass all but two appropriations bills, those for the departments of Defense and Homeland Security.

"I don't love this proposal, and we probably have made some wrong choices," he said. "But in contrast to last year's Congress, which decided to duck these choices, at least we have made them in order to bring last year's issues to a conclusion so we can turn the page and deal with next year's priorities."

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joel.havemann@latimes.com

Times staff writer Noam N. Levey contributed to this report.

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