Congress sends Bush $800B
November 18, 2004:By ALAN FRAM
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
WASHINGTON -- Congress sent
President Bush an $800 billion boost in the federal borrowing limit on
Thursday, spotlighting how the budget has lurched out of control in
recent years and how hard it will be to afford future initiatives.
The House approved the measure by a near party-line 208-204 vote
as White House and bipartisan congressional bargainers moved to the
verge of agreement on a year-end spending package expected to total
$388 billion. Negotiators said just a handful of issues remained
unresolved, and a package might be ready for votes by late Friday.
With the government facing imminent default because it has
depleted its authority to borrow money, the debt limit bill would pump
up the federal borrowing cap to $8.18 trillion. That is 70 percent the
size of the entire U.S. economy, and more than $2.4 trillion higher
than the debt Bush inherited upon taking office in 2001.
"The president commends the Congress for passing the debt limit
increase," the White House said in a written statement that did not
mention the magnitude of borrowing involved or its causes. "Passage of
this legislation was important to protect the full faith and credit of
the United States."
In an effort to reassure the financial markets that federal
borrowing would be unimpeded, the statement said Bush would sign the
legislation by next Monday.
Republicans said they were being responsible because the
increased borrowing will let the government pay Social Security
benefits and its other bills. They blamed Democratic spending for the
problem, and accused them of playing politics by opposing the measure.
"Let's not use our elderly as political pawns in trade for a
seven-second sound bite back home," said Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas.
Democrats said the red ink was due to GOP tax cuts and their
refusal to require budget savings to pay for tax reductions or spending
increases. They accused Republicans of passing the buck to future
"I want someone to explain to me how it can be moral for a
father to stick his kids with his bills," said Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss.
Lawmakers hope to end their postelection session, which began
Tuesday, by passing both the spending and debt-limit measures and
possibly an intelligence agency overhaul by this weekend.
Negotiators spent Thursday clearing away final disputes on the
massive spending bill. They agreed to $577 million, the same as last
year, to continue developing a nuclear waste storage site at Yucca
Mountain in Nevada, one lawmaker said.
Remaining problems included an effort by some legislators to curb
Bush's plan to contract out federal jobs to private businesses, as well
as a plan to pay for some of the bill's increases by cutting unspent
The bill would grant increases to such priorities as veterans'
health care and the FBI and will probably contain thousands of
Hewing to Bush's demands to curb domestic spending, it also
would cut grants for local water improvements and research supported by
the National Science Foundation, while holding the federal subsidy for
Amtrak to $1.2 billion, the same as this year.
Aid to help refugees in Sudan's war-torn Darfur province would
be $404 million, including $93 million to be transferred from Iraq
reconstruction money that is being spent at a snail's pace.
Spending-bill bargainers also sorted through a stack of policy
changes that lawmakers and lobbyists were trying to shove into one of
the last measures Congress will approve this year.
Congressional aides said they believed a milk subsidy extension
sought by Midwesterners and an effort to repeal required
country-of-origin labels for meat would not make the final bill. Also
thwarted was a drive to ease rules designed to protect endangered
species from pesticides, the aides said.
The spending measure, covering the government budget year that
started Oct. 1, is an amalgamation of nine separate bills financing all
federal agencies except the Pentagon and the Homeland Security
The GOP-led Senate approved the debt limit increase on
Wednesday, 52-44, almost strictly along party lines.
The fight over raising the debt limit has become a staple of the
Bush years, which will have now seen three such increases and two
consecutive record annual deficits.
The government reached the current $7.38 trillion cap last
month, paying its bills since with investments from a civil service
retirement account, which it plans to repay. Even so, Republican
leaders postponed the showdown vote until after the election, realizing
Democrats would use the issue to highlight the red ink of the Bush