WASHINGTON - Liberals looking to Democrats for big spending increases in the new Congress - on education programs such as Head Start - will come away disappointed with some choices being made in dividing up money for the rest of this year.
They will find a tightfisted, Republican-tilting bill coming from the Democrats who now are running Congress and picking up the pieces of what the GOP left undone in 2006.
Military veterans will be OK, as will health researchers, the FBI and food inspectors. But there will be many losers, including President Bush, as a $463-billion-or-so catchall spending bill advances through the House and Senate over the next three weeks.
The bill wraps together the budgets through September for 13 cabinet agencies. All of the budgeting work was supposed to have been completed months ago, but Republicans did not want to make some of the tough choices before the election and made no serious effort to complete the work after it.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey would have preferred boosting spending by $13 billion on education, health care and science, but he lacks the money.
Instead, most federal accounts will be frozen at 2006 levels. There are, however, scores of exceptions for agencies that must have increases to avoid imposing furloughs and hiring freezes or cutting critical services such as housing assistance for more than 200,000 poor people.
Deciding which programs get exempted from the money freeze has prompted several weeks of arduous negotiations led by Obey (D., Wis.) and his Senate counterpart, Robert C. Byrd (D., W. Va.).
They said last month that they would abide by a GOP-set funding cap for all agency budgets passed at lawmakers' discretion, and they promised to keep the bill clean of congressional pet projects.
Lobbying has been furious, with lawmakers, agencies, interest groups, and even the rock star Bono weighing in. He pressed unsuccessfully for a $1 billion boost to fight AIDS, malaria and poverty in Africa.
At issue is about $10 billion available for plugging funding gaps. Agencies likely to win some of the funds include:
The Veterans Affairs Department, which is sure to win a $3 billion increase for the growing veterans medical-care program.
The National Institutes of Health, which may get an increase of $500 million or so for health-research grants.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, to hire people it needs to handle the expected first license requests for new power-plant reactors since the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania.
The Agriculture Department, to avoid temporary layoffs of food inspectors.
The Justice Department, to lift a hiring freeze at the Drug Enforcement Administration and hiring curbs at the FBI.
Among the likely losers are the Pentagon, which cannot possibly get all of a $4 billion increase sought by Bush to implement base closures. His foreign-aid budget also faces cuts, but they will not be applied to allies such as Israel.