WASHINGTON - The House passed a $463.5 billion spending bill yesterday that covers about one-sixth of the federal budget as Democrats cleared away the financial mess they inherited from Republicans.
Before the 286-140 vote, Republicans made modest objections to Democrats' spending decisions but protested greatly over how the new majority muscled the bill through the House.
Democrats said the legislation would increase spending on education, veterans, health research, and grants to state and local law enforcement agencies. Among the tradeoffs were cuts to President Bush's budget requests for NASA, foreign aid, and aid for communities affected by the latest round of military base closings.
The measure heads to the Senate, which is expected to pass it before a Feb. 15 deadline to avert a partial government shutdown. President Bush has signaled he will sign the bill.
Despite GOP complaints about how the bill came together, it is generally a Republican-leaning measure that keeps to the same overall cap that Bush and congressional Republicans insisted on last year - before Democrats won control of Capitol Hill in the Nov. 7 elections.
Spending levels for most agencies and programs are the same as in last year's budget.
But the House Appropriations Committee chairman, Rep. David Obey (D., Wis.), and his Senate counterpart, Robert C. Byrd (D., W.Va.), used a series of maneuvers to find enough money to avert furloughs and hiring freezes. Obey put the total at $16 billion.
Republicans contended that some money came from phantom savings from highway spending. They also said Democrats bowed to Senate demands to preserve some home-state projects such as $45 million for a much-ridiculed indoor-rainforest research project in Iowa.
"If ever there was low-hanging fruit . . . this was it," said Rep. David Hobson (R., Ohio).
The powerful veterans' lobby won a $3.6 billion increase from the House for medical care. Low-income college students would receive a $260 boost, to $4,310, in the maximum Pell Grant. State and local law enforcement agencies would gain more money for grants for new equipment and hiring officers.
Community development block grants, however, were frozen at current levels, as was money for Amtrak. Still, advocates for those programs portrayed it as a victory of sorts compared with the budget Bush submitted a year ago.
The amount intended to combat AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis overseas would grow by $1.3 billion, to $4.5 billion. That would be enough to fund Bush's $225 million initiative to fight malaria and increase the U.S. contribution to $724 million for a global fund for those diseases.
Conservative Republicans pressed for a budget freeze to save about $6 billion; others complained about inadequate spending.
Rep. Jerry Moran (R., Kan.) pushed in vain for $3.3 billion in additional spending for farm disaster aid. Rep. Dave Weldon (R., Fla.) contended that a $545 million cut to NASA would jeopardize the agency's plans to send astronauts back to the Moon and on to Mars.
The bill has something to please and offend every lawmaker. But the overall feeling was simply relief that the uncertainty of last year's unresolved budget soon would vanish.
(R., Pa.) and H. James Saxton (R., N.J.).