WASHINGTON- The House of Representatives on Thursday approved a $447 billion bill that boosts funding for a large part of the U.S. government and reflects priorities of Democrats who control Congress and the White House.
The House approved the spending bill by a vote of 221 to 202 and sent it to the Senate, which must pass it by December 18 or extend a temporary measure to keep the government running. The measure would fund dozens of government agencies through the rest of the 2010 fiscal year, which ends next September 30.
No Republicans voted for it. They blasted the 2,444-page measure as an irresponsible 14 percent spending increase for domestic programs at a time of record government deficits.
The measure would boost spending for the priorities of President Barack Obama's administration, such as building high-speed rail and beefing up oversight of financial markets.
It would boost lending programs for small businesses, which the administration has identified as a way to bring down the nation's 10 percent unemployment rate.
In addition, the many car dealerships cut loose by General Motors Co. and Chrysler would be given a way to try to maintain their affiliations with those auto makers.
The bill also advances liberal social policies, reversing restrictions put in place by former President George W. Bush and his Republican allies.
Needle-exchange programs for drug addicts -- intended to ensure that diseases such as AIDS are not spread by infected needles shared by injection drug users -- would have an easier time getting federal funding under the measure. Abstinence-only sex-education programs for schoolchildren would get less money.
The measure would reverse a ban on the ability of Washington, D.C. to use local funds to pay for abortions. The capital city, unlike the 50 U.S. states, is subject to congressional control. The provision could tie up the bill in the Senate, where Republicans want to strip the language out.
'ERA OF BIG GOVERNMENT'
The bill includes $3.9 billion in so-called earmarks to fund 5,224 pet projects in various lawmakers' home districts, according to the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense.
There is no question that the era of big government has returned to Washington, said Rep. Jerry Lewis, the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee.
Democrats said the increases would reverse years of atrophy under Bush and fight the worst recession since the 1930s through programs like worker retraining.
We are in the process of trying to deal with years of neglect and we're in the process of trying to deal with an economic emergency, said Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey.
The price tag does not include hundreds of billions of dollars in entitlement programs providing health insurance and retirement benefits to millions of Americans that Congress does not control directly.
The Medicare health-insurance program for the elderly and disabled, for example, is expected to cost $514 billion this fiscal year and the Social Security retirement program will cost $698 billion, the Congressional Budget Office said.
Fiscal 2010 began on October 1, but Congress has not passed spending bills for the year. In fact, Congress has not passed spending bills on time since 1994.
Lawmakers next week are expected to take up the largest spending bill of all -- a $600 billion-plus measure that funds the Pentagon, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
(Editing by Chris Wilson)