Spending showdown looms on Hill 

Democrats in Congress are pushing for the passage of hundreds of billions of dollars in new spending, much of which would be added to the nation's growing deficit, even as they face significant opposition from the public and lawmakers in their own party.

The lineup of spending bills in Congress comes as President Obama has asked lawmakers to approve $50 billion in emergency aid to states and local governments, including $23 billion for teacher salaries -- money that Democrats have so far been unable to find enough support for.

"It appears at this point that doesn't have 60 votes here," Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., told The Washington Examiner.

The president's request for $33 billion in additional war funding is also in jeopardy as House Democrats resist billions in domestic spending added to the bill and grow more skeptical of the success of the troop surge in Afghanistan.

 

Big bills A snapshot of the spending and stimulus bills pending in Congress $58.8 billion war supplemental -- Includes $33.5 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan and money to aide quake-stricken Haiti. While it passed the Senate, the House is wrangling over a much more expensive version that includes billions in domestic spending. Not paid for. $32 billion for small business loans -- House will vote on the measure Wednesday but there are no plans for Senate to consider the bill, which would cost $3.3 billion by 2015, according to the Congressional Budget Office. $23 billion for states to avert teacher layoffs -- Lacks support in both the House and Senate but Obama is pushing for passage. Not paid for. $115 billion for jobless benefits, federal aide and payments for doctors who treat Medicare patients -- Passed the House with a $54 billion addition to deficit. Senate vote planned for Wednesday on a $140 billion package, which would add $79 billion to the deficit, but passage is in doubt due to the steep price tag.

 

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, were struggling to round up the votes needed to begin debating a $140 billion benefits package that includes Obama-backed funds for the jobless, aid to struggling states to pay government workers and tax breaks for small businesses. The vote is scheduled for Wednesday, but many Democrats anticipate the cost and size of the bill will have to be trimmed.

"It needs to be paid for and if it can't be paid for then I have serious reservations about whether it ought to be considered," Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb. said.

The House passed its $115 billion version of the aid package last month, shaving off a sizable chunk of the bill after fiscally moderate Democrats threatened to vote against it. The Senate is now looking to restore some of those cuts and then some, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hoping to add money to extend the $8,000 homebuyer tax break that expired in April.

The debate on the spending bills in both the Senate and House has become a clash between lawmakers who refuse to add to the nation's $1.5 trillion deficit and those who believe more government funding is a critical element in helping the nation's economy recover.

That debate took center stage in the House Tuesday as lawmakers considered a $32 billion loan package for small businesses. Democrats argued that the bill, sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., would spur $300 billion in lending to small businesses. But Republicans said the money would not be available for up to two years and duplicated provisions in the $700 billion bank bailout Congress approved in 2008. "What this bill is going to do is deepen our debt problems," Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said. "The simple truth is, taxpayers cannot afford another bank bailout."

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, said Congress could prolong the recession by stopping aid too soon.

"I'm frankly confounded why anybody would vote against this," she said.

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

 

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