The US Senate and House of Representatives passed separate versions of a massive budget on Thursday signaling broad support for US President Barack Obama's climate change and healthcare overhaul ambitions.
Obama's Democratic allies, who control both chambers, slightly streamlined his spending proposals for the fiscal year that starts on Oct. 1, but hewed closely to his priorities in approving the US$3.5 trillion plans.
The Senate voted 55 to 43, just hours after the House passed the measure 233 to 196 — both without a single vote from Republicans, who offered an alternate approach that would slash taxes and restrict what they called bloated spending.
Despite a handful of Democratic defections, the votes amounted to a victory for the president, even though he did not sign the framework and bitter legislative battles on his main priorities are yet to come.s
Obama, in London attending a G20 meeting, thanked lawmakers after the votes for “taking an important step toward rebuilding our struggling economy.”
“This budget resolution embraces our most fundamental priorities: an energy plan that will end our dependence on foreign oil and spur a new clean energy economy,” as well as education and healthcare reform that “finally confronts the back-breaking costs” on Americans, he said in a statement.
Republicans were having none of it.
“It is a budget that puts the economy on an unsustainable course,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, pointing to tax increases and the soaring national debt.
Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner denounced the plan as “a road map to disaster.”
The House and Senate will reconcile their versions of the plan, which is a non-binding spending framework that sets the stage for actual spending legislation later in the year, when all sides expect pitched battles on the president's climate change, education and healthcare policies.
That will require compromises, Obama said, vowing “to go through the budget line-by-line, searching for additional savings.”
“Like the families we serve, we must cut the things we don’t need to invest in,” Obama said.
Democrats have said the Republican approach to the global economic crisis — tax cuts, spending curbs, and resistance to regulation — are the same policies that fueled the meltdown.
“It's going to take a lot of work to clean up the mess we inherited, and passing this budget is a critical step in the right direction,” Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said.
Obama has disputed a grim Congressional Budget Office warning that the federal budget deficit could hit US$1.845 trillion this year under the Obama proposal, quadrupling last year’s record shortfall and reaching to 13.1 percent of the total US economic output.
The House resolution would trim the deficit to US$1.2 trillion next year, compared to the president’s figure of US$1.4 trillion.
Obama said that “by making hard choices and challenging the old ways of doing business, we will cut in half the budget deficit we inherited within four years.”
Republican Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas slammed the House vote as a bloated blueprint for spending on government projects that are bound to plunge the country further into debt.
“Never in the history of America have so few voted so fast to indebt so many,” Hensarling said.