The Senate is poised to take up a $516 billion measure to fund 14 Cabinet agencies and troops in Afghanistan, with President Bush likely to sign the measure if his GOP allies can add up to $40 billion for the war in Iraq.
Senate leaders would like to wrap up debate Tuesday, though GOP conservatives may balk, unhappy with spending above Bush's budget and a secretive process that produced a 1,482-page bill with almost 9,000 pet projects sought by lawmakers.
Despite opposition from conservative hard-liners like Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Jim DeMint, R-S.C., the stage is set for a year-end budget deal ending a monthslong battle between the White House and congressional Democrats over domestic spending.
Democrats have succeeded in smoothing the rough edges of Bush's February budget plan, which sought below-inflation increases for domestic programs other than military base construction and contained numerous cutbacks and program eliminations.
But Democrats were able to fill in most of the cuts by shifting money from the Pentagon and foreign aid budgets, adding "emergency" funding above Bush's budget "cap" and adding future-year funding for federal education programs.
The bill passed the House late Monday after an unusual legislative two-step aimed at easing the bill's movement through a gauntlet of anti-war Democrats and Republicans unhappy with the measure's price tag and the process that produced it.
The House first voted 253-154 to approve the omnibus spending bill funding domestic agency budgets and foreign aid; they then voted 206-201 to add $31 billion for troops in Afghanistan to the measure and sent the combined spending package to the Senate. Democrats are generally far more supportive of military operations in Afghanistan than they are of the unpopular war in Iraq.
Republicans generally opposed the omnibus measure, arguing it's unfair to provide money for troops in Afghanistan but not Iraq. They also opposed $13 billion in spending above Bush's "top line" request for the one-third of the budget passed each year by Congress.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has vowed to add up to $40 billion more for Iraq to the measure, with Democratic leaders recognizing the money is the key to averting a GOP filibuster and obtaining Bush's signature.
"We're making some pretty good progress toward coming up with a fiscally sound budget, one that meets priorities, helps on some emergencies and enables us to say that we've been fiscally sound with the people's money," Bush said Monday.
Adding Money for Iraq
The Senate is expected to approve the bill after adding money for Iraq. The complicated plan calls for the House to then clear the bill for Bush after a vote limited to the war funding, with Republicans supplying the winning margin. That vote, if successful, would free lawmakers to go home for Christmas.
The result would be a twin defeat for Democrats, who had vowed not to allow additional Iraq war funding without conditions and had spent months on legislation to add $27 billion to domestic programs, an almost 7 percent increase.
Democrats succeeded in reversing cuts sought by Bush to heating subsidies, local law enforcement, Amtrak and housing as well as Bush's plan to eliminate the $654 million budget for grants to community action agencies that help the poor.
To find the money, lawmakers shifted $6 billion from Bush's plans for defense, foreign aid and military base construction accounts. Veterans would get $3.7 billion more than Bush requested, supplied on an "emergency" basis above Bush's budget cap.
Democrats were able to put their imprint on the bill, restoring Bush-sought cuts to state and local law enforcement grants, aid to community action groups and airport modernization grants.
Democrats also added funding for food programs, subsidies to community development banks and Homeland Security Department grants to first responders.
Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington-based watchdog group that opposes so-called pork barrel projects, counted 8,983 such "earmarks" worth $7.4 billion. These hometown pet projects include economic development grants, aid to local transit and police departments, and clean water projects, among many others.