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Congress OKs $3 trillion plan

Congress on Thursday approved a $3 trillion spending plan that proposes modest increases for domestic programs such as education, energy and veterans benefits – and marks the first time in eight years that lawmakers have managed to adopt a budget in an election year.

Democrats hailed the feat as “a demonstration of our ability to govern effectively,” in the words of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. Republicans acknowledged the accomplishment, which eluded Congresses under their control in 2006, 2004 and 2002, as well as in 1998.

But they blasted Democrats for raising spending on government agencies to historic levels and for failing to slow the rampant growth of Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, potentially adding trillions to the national debt.

“It's a huge missed opportunity,” Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., senior Republican on the House Budget Committee, said during House debate. “We shouldn't be doing this to our children.”

Committee Chairman John Spratt, D-S.C., fired back that the blueprint aims to balance the budget by 2012, erasing years of deficits racked up under a Republican president.

“President Bush told the country we could have it all: guns, butter and tax cuts, too, and never mind the deficits,” Spratt said. “It takes a long time to turn this battleship around, but that's what we do in this budget.”

The spending plan squeaked through the House on a vote of 214-210, as 14 Democrats voted with a united GOP in opposition. Earlier this week, the Senate gave its approval to the nonbinding resolution, which does not go to the president for his signature but sets targets for a dozen annual appropriations bills.

Because Bush has vowed to veto appropriations bills that exceed his spending requests, Democrats are considering delaying passage of most of the bills until a new president takes office in January.

The spending plan assumes that some of Bush's signature tax cuts will expire on schedule in 2010, bringing billions of additional dollars into the treasury.

Democrats have said they will extend the tax cuts that benefit the middle class, including the increase in the child tax credit, the marriage-penalty reduction and the new 10 percent tax bracket.