Congress Sends Bush Bill To Keep Government Running

Thursday, September 27th 2007, 8:20 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Congress on Thursday cleared for President Bush must-pass bills to prevent a government shutdown and extend the Treasury Department's ability to finance the budget deficit.

The stopgap spending bill, which the Senate approved 94-1, was needed because Congress has not sent Bush a single spending bill. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., cast the only no vote.

The debt limit increase measure passed by a 53-42 vote and comes as the government continues to leak red ink.

The bills will now be shipped to the White House for Bush to sign by an Oct. 1 deadline. That's when the new fiscal year starts and, coincidentally, when the government will hit its borrowing ceiling of $8.965 trillion. The new debt limit would be $9.815 trillion.

Congress has never failed to raise the debt ceiling and prevent default on U.S. obligations, but the vote nonetheless illustrates the fiscal failings of Bush and Congress since the U.S. recorded four straight years of surpluses ending in 2001, Bush's first year.

The lingering deficit is well below the $413 billion set in 2004 and is now largely a product of increasing war costs. It is expected to reach $158 billion for the fiscal year about to end, about $15 billion less than appropriated for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The stopgap spending bill would keep all 15 Cabinet departments running at current levels through mid-November, extend financing for a popular health insurance program covering children from low-income families, and dip deeply into a $70 billion fund for Pentagon operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Passage of the stopgap funding bill likely permits Democrats to put off until early next year a vote on Bush's $189 billion request for Pentagon operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's what Democratic leaders are signaling they will do.

Such stopgap funding bills are routine and have been needed every year since 1994. But for the first time in five years, none of the 12 annual appropriations bills have become law by the Oct. 1 deadline. Republican-led Congresses typically had made sure at least the defense and homeland security measures had passed by then.

Bush is plainly eager for a veto showdown with Democrats over their efforts to add $23 billion for domestic programs to Bush's $933 billion request for the approximately one-third of the federal budget funded by the yearly spending bills.

Beyond Bush's objections to the additional money _ which he says would compound into $205 billion over five years _ Bush is looking to reclaim for Republicans the reputation with the public as the party of fiscal discipline.

``One of the reasons we lost control of the Congress ... is that people quit seeing differences between the two parties,'' said GOP lobbyist Charlie Black.

Democrats say their spending add-ons are relatively modest given the overall size of the budget and in comparison to Bush's pending $189 billion request for Pentagon operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008. And most of the additional money, Democrats say, simply restores cuts proposed by Bush to popular programs such as community development grants, health research and anti-crime initiatives.

``On the one hand, the president is seeking over $190 billion in emergency appropriations to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ... for just one year,'' said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va. ``At the same time, the president wants to veto critical domestic spending bills because they total $22 billion above his budget request _ less than 1 percent of our entire budget and about what we spend in just two months' time fighting an unpopular war in Iraq.''

Democrats were also critical about the debt limit increase, the fifth such increase since Bush took office. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., noted that the bill would be the fifth debt limit increase _ totaling $3.865 trillion _ since Bush took office.

Bush's 2001 budget presentation promised tax cuts, spending increases and $2 trillion in debt buyback made possible by huge budget surplus forecasts _ estimates that proved very, very wrong.

``Instead of paying down the debt, the debt has exploded on his watch,'' Conrad said.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson praised the Senate for protecting ``the full faith and credit of the United States.''

The House passed the stopgap funding bill on Wednesday and passed the debt limit increase when adopting its budget plan in May.