Dems' spending plan in trouble 

Facing outright rebellion from deficit-weary lawmakers, House Democratic leaders were forced to scale back a massive tax cut and benefits package and postpone action on war spending bill stuffed with high-priced domestic items.

"I think we've reached a tipping point, where you can only expect members to vote so many times for unpaid-for spending," said Rep. Jason Altmire, D-Pa.

Altmire and other Democrats, many of them politically vulnerable freshmen or members of the fiscally conservative House Democratic Blue Dog Coalition, were leading the opposition to what was originally a nearly $200 billion package that combined unemployment benefits, health insurance for the jobless, the extension of certain tax breaks and a three-year delay in scheduled Medicare payments for

Lacking the votes to move forward, Democratic leaders scaled back the bill, reducing its price tag to $144 billion by setting earlier expiration dates for the Medicare provision and unemployment benefits. But with more than $84 million of that sum unpaid for, moderate Democrats refused to get on board and the bill stalled.

In the meantime, Democrats postponed indefinitely a planned markup of the 2010 war supplemental bill that includes $33 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A spokesman said the vote on the bill was canceled because members were tied up on the floor debating a different bill.

But lawmakers said the reason had more to do with widespread opposition to nearly $50 billion in domestic spending tacked onto the bill in addition to the war spending, including $23 billion to forestall a mass layoff of teachers whose jobs were kept temporarily viable thanks to the $787 billion stimulus bill of 2009.

The Senate on Thursday voted to pass a $58 billion war supplemental that does not include the hefty domestic spending found in the draft House version.

Democratic leaders late Thursday resigned themselves to abandoning the war supplemental and cutting even more from the benefits package.

According to Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has offered a deal to the moderate Democrats. In exchange for their support, she would strip from the bill the additional funding for states to pay for Medicaid as well as the money to help the jobless pay for health insurance. The amount of unpaid-for spending was cut to approximately $60 billion.

"I'm leaning toward a yes," Cuellar, a Blue Dog, said, when asked if he would back the trimmed-down version.

The Senate must approve the House version for it to become law, but that is unlikely to happen before the weeklong Memorial Day recess because Senate Republicans have threatened to block unpaid-for spending.

Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a vocal opponent of earmark spending, said the Democratic caucus is much more worried about spending than it has ever been. Flake said he is normally allowed to offer amendments to the defense authorization bill that would strike out earmarks, but not this time.

"For the first time ever, they did not allow me one amendment because they know now all Republicans would vote for it, plus a substantial number of Democrats would be forced, politically, to vote with me and I'd probably win," Flake said.

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