WASHINGTON- The Democratic-controlled U.S. Congress on Thursday moved toward passing a federal budget that embraces President Barack Obama's initiatives on healthcare, energy and education but leaves the government deeply in debt for the foreseeable future.
The House of Representatives and Senate were poised to approve slightly different, less expensive versions of Obama's $3.55 trillion budget plan for fiscal 2010, which begins on October 1.
Democrats, who control both chambers, were expecting little to no support from Republicans, who offered alternative plans that would fuel the debate but appeared to be going nowhere.
A compromise version of the Democrats' nonbinding measure is expected to take shape over the next few weeks.
We think we have the votes. We think it will pass later on Thursday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Hoyer expected alternative measures from both parties to fall short, clearing the way for a $3.45 trillion budget that was approved last week by the House Budget Committee.
Republicans in both chambers generally want significantly less spending on domestic social programs, more money for the U.S. military and a continuation of tax cuts that were a central tenet of the departed Bush administration.
But their proposals also would result in severe budget deficits over the long-term, in the range of $500 billion annually or more. Obama's budget, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, would produce higher annual deficits in the $650 billion to $750 billion range.
The Senate, meanwhile, was slogging through many amendments, including one by 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain, who would limit increases in certain non-defense spending to the inflation rate and extend the Bush tax cuts that expire at the end of 2010.
Hoyer called the House Democrats' five-year plan a responsible and realistic budget that mirrors the president's priorities for healthcare, energy and education that he also said would help stand up the U.S. economy.
Obama seeks a vast overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system to lower spiraling costs and insure millions of people who lack coverage. On energy, he wants to develop alternative sources and rein in industrial pollutants that contribute to climate change.
Education funding would be increased to boost programs ranging from early learning to college tuition aid.
While the budget plans do not specifically fund all these programs, they would prompt congressional committees to write detailed bills later in the year doing so.
But Republicans see a dangerous expansion of the federal government, which they say would only worsen the country's long-term fiscal situation.
The administration's budget simply taxes too much, spends too much, and borrows too much at a moment when we can least afford it, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said.
The Senate Democratic majority's budget, at $3.41 trillion for next year, would continue some tax cuts for the middle class while allowing some taxes on the wealthy to rise.