Budget Stalemate One Step Closer To Resolution

It took months of negotiations, 696 pages of earmarks and some painful concessions by Democrats, but the end of the congressional spending stalemate is at hand.

The House took the first major step on Monday night, passing a $516 billion omnibus appropriations package, 253-154. In an unusual two step amending process, the House followed up with a 206-201 vote to add $31 billion for military operations in Afghanistan while prohibiting expenditures for Iraq.

The Senate is expected to quickly amend the House version of this spending bill and add up to $70 billion for the war in Iraq, without any of the serious conditions for troop withdrawal that Democrats have been pushing all year.

The House vote fell mainly along party lines, with Republicans lodging their protest with "no" votes because the spending package did not include Iraq money. A handful of conservative Republicans dominated House floor time, railing against thousands of earmarks that were part of the appropriations bill, but 41 Republicans also voted for the bill.

House Appropriations Chairman David R. Obey (D-Wis.), defended the legislation he drafted, pointing out that earmarks were down 43 percent under the Democratic Congress. Still, GOP House and Senate members complained that earmarks were "air dropped" with no debate into the appropriations.

Democrats were essentially forced to meet President Bush's budget number, and by the time the bill reaches the White House for a signature, Bush will get the war money he wants with no strings attached.

Yet Democrats got their digs in on the president, cutting several of his coveted programs like abstinence funding and the Millennium Challenge program, while adding $3.7 billion for veteran's health care, billions for drought assistance and nearly $500 million for renewable energy programs. Democrats also exceeded the Bush budget by adding money for Pell grants, Head Start programs and low income heating assistance.