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Congressional Democrats reach budget agreement

Their plan would keep Republicans from stopping Obama's healthcare reform plan, expected this fall.

April 28, 2009|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats sealed an agreement Monday night on a budget plan that would help President Obama overhaul the healthcare system but allow his tax cut for most workers to expire after next year.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) announced the agreement and key details.

The pact would prevent Senate Republicans from delaying or blocking Obama's plan to vastly expand government-subsidized healthcare when it advances this fall.

The $3.5-trillion plan for the budget year starting Oct. 1 embraces several of Obama's key goals besides healthcare reform, including funds for domestic programs and clean energy, and a tax increase for individuals making more than $200,000 a year or for couples making more than $250,000.

But the plan would allow Obama's signature $400 tax cut for most workers and $800 for couples to expire at the end of next year. Even after squeezing the defense and war budgets to levels that are probably unrealistic, the plan would cause a deficit of $523 billion in five years.

"I think this is a good budget," Conrad said. But, he added, "much more will have to be done to get us on a more sustainable course," including slowing the growth of benefit programs like Medicare and overhauling the tax code.

Under Capitol Hill's arcane rules, the annual congressional budget produces an outline for follow-up tax and spending legislation. But an important wrinkle in this year's measure would allow Obama's health plan to pass the Senate by a simple majority instead of the 60 votes that are needed for much other legislation.

Democrats and their two independent allies control 58 Senate seats; 60 are required to prevent a filibuster.

Democrats hope the House will adopt the budget today and the Senate on Wednesday, which will be Obama's 100th day in office.

Obama and his Democratic allies say they still want support from Republicans for healthcare legislation but need the option of expedited action in case the debate becomes overly partisan. But Republicans oppose the move.

"Fast-tracking a major legislative overhaul such as healthcare reform . . . without the benefit of a full and transparent debate does a disservice to the American people," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said last week.

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