Sat, Nov 20, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Congress passes US$800 billion debt limit increase

NO PINCHING PENNIES The debt limit bill would pump up the US federal borrowing cap to US$8.18 trillion -- or 70 percent the size of the US economy

AP , WASHINGTON

The US Congress sent President George W. Bush an US$ 800 billion boost in the federal borrowing limit on Thursday, spotlighting how the budget has lurched out of control in recent years and how hard it will be to afford future initiatives.

The House approved the measure by a near party-line 208-204 vote as White House and bipartisan congressional bargainers moved to the verge of agreement on a year-end spending package expected to total US$388 billion.

Negotiators said just a handful of issues remained unresolved, and a package might be ready for votes by late yesterday.

With the government facing imminent default because it has depleted its authority to borrow money, the debt limit bill would pump up the federal borrowing cap to US$8.18 trillion.

That is 70 percent the size of the entire US economy, and more than US$2.4 trillion higher than the debt Bush inherited upon taking office in 2001.

Republicans said they were being responsible because the increased borrowing will let the government pay Social Security benefits and its other bills. They blamed Democratic spending for the problem, and accused them of playing politics by opposing the measure.

``Let's not use our elderly as political pawns in trade for a seven-second sound bite back home,'' said Representative Kevin Brady, a Republican.

Democrats said the red ink was due to Republican tax cuts and their refusal to require budget savings to pay for tax reductions or spending increases. They accused Republicans of passing the buck to future generations.

``I want someone to explain to me how it can be moral for a father to stick his kids with his bills,'' Representative Gene Taylor said.

Lawmakers hope to end their post-election session, which began on Tuesday, by passing both the spending and debt-limit measures and possibly an intelligence agency overhaul by this weekend.

Negotiators spent Thursday clearing away final disputes on the massive spending bill. They agreed to US$ 577 million, the same as last year, to continue developing a nuclear waste storage site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, one lawmaker said. Remaining problems included an effort by some legislators to curb Bush's plan to contract out federal jobs to private businesses, as well as a plan to pay for some of the bill's increases by cutting unspent defense funds.

Aid to help refugees in Sudan's war-torn Darfur province would be US$404 million, including US$93 million to be transferred from Iraq. reconstruction money that is being spent at a snail's pace.

The Republican-led Senate approved the debt limit increase on Wednesday, 52-44.

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