Congress advances federal budget

CONGRESS ADVANCES FEDERAL BUDGET…. It’s not identical to the budget President Obama sent to Congress, but it’s close.

Congressional Democrats overwhelmingly embraced President Obama’s ambitious and expensive agenda for the nation yesterday, endorsing a $3.5 trillion spending plan that sets the stage for the president to pursue his most far-reaching priorities.

Voting along party lines, the House and Senate approved budget blueprints that would trim Obama’s spending proposals for the fiscal year that begins in October and curtail his plans to cut taxes. The blueprints, however, would permit work to begin on the central goals of Obama’s presidency: an expansion of health-care coverage for the uninsured, more money for college loans and a cap-and-trade system to reduce gases that contribute to global warming.

The measures now move to a conference committee where negotiators must resolve differences between the two chambers, a prelude to the more difficult choices that will be required to implement Obama’s initiatives. While Democrats back the president’s vision for transforming huge sectors of the economy, they remain fiercely divided over the details.

To that extend, the real work — on health care and cap-and-trade proposals, reconciliation, taxes — will get underway after the two-week congressional recess. That said, Democrats have to be pleased with the major step forward the chambers took yesterday. The White House issued a statement last night hailing the budget(s) as having embraced “our most fundamental priorities: an energy plan that will end our dependence on foreign oil and spur a new clean energy economy; an education system that will ensure our children will be able to compete in the economy of the 21st century; and health care reform that finally confronts the back-breaking costs plaguing families, businesses and government alike.”

A few highlights of note:

* The ridiculous House GOP alternative budget was brought up for a vote. Every Democrat voted against it, but among Republicans, it was 137 to 38. In other words, the proposal unveiled by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was so extreme, about one-fifth of the House GOP caucus voted against their own budget.

* John McCain’s equally foolish budget alternative was also defeated. Every Democrat voted against it, but among Senate Republicans, it was 38 to 3. In other words, in the midst of an economic crisis, 93% of the Senate GOP caucus voted for an insane five-year spending freeze. Seriously.

* Arlen Specter voted for the stimulus package in February, and then voted for a five-year spending freeze last night. What a joke.

* The Democratic budget passed the Senate with 55 votes, but no Republicans. Two Democrats — Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Evan Bayh of Indiana — sided with the GOP. (Yes, Bayh is the new Lieberman.)

* The 233 votes in support of the budget in the House is the biggest majority for a budget in 12 years.

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