WASHINGTON – The Democratic-controlled House approved a budget drawn to President Obama’s specifications Thursday and the Senate hastened to follow suit after administration allies rejected alternatives from liberals and conservatives alike.
The vote in the House was 233-196, largely along party lines, for a $3.6 trillion plan that includes a deficit of $1.2 trillion.
The country wants “real change, and we have come here to make a difference,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said as both chambers worked on plans to boost spending on domestic programs, raise taxes on the wealthy in two years’ time and clear the way for action later in the year on Obama’s priority items of health care, energy and education.
Republicans in both houses accused Democrats of drafting plans that would hurt the recession-ravaged economy in the long run, rather than help it, and saddle future generations with too much debt.
“The administration’s budget simply taxes too much, spends too much and borrows too much at a moment when we can least afford it,” said the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
But a Republican alternative fared poorly in the House, where 38 GOP lawmakers voted against a plan supported by their own leadership. Officials ascribed much of the opposition to a provision that called for eliminating traditional fee-for-service Medicare for individuals who reach age 65 in 2020 or later and replacing it with coverage from private insurance companies.
The day’s events capped a busy three months for the Democratic-controlled Congress that took office in January.
Moving with unusual speed, lawmakers have enacted a $787 billion economic stimulus measure, cleared the way for release of $350 billion in financial industry bailout funds, approved an expansion of children’s health care and sent Obama legislation setting aside more than 2 million acres in nine states as protected wilderness.
The White House issued a statement hailing the House vote as “another step toward rebuilding our struggling economy.”
And while they represented victories for the administration, the budgets merely cleared the way for work later in the year on key presidential priorities: expansion and overhaul of the nation’s health care system, creation of a new energy policy and sweeping changes in education.