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US Congress Begins Break Amid Funding Battles


The U.S., Congress has begun a two week holiday break with major government funding legislation left unfinished, and amid continuing battles between Democrats and Republicans, and between Democrats and President Bush, over spending on everything from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to important domestic programs. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill.

There is nothing new about fierce debate in Congress over how to pay for government programs and military needs, especially as a congressional session begins to draw to a close around the Thanksgiving holiday.

But in this first full year since the 2006 mid-term election in which Democrats have controlled the House and Senate, partisan conflicts and divisions, amid increasing alarm over the billions of dollars required for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, have been particularly sharp.

As they left town for Thanksgiving, at which point both the House and Senate have usually tried but failed to finish all legislative work for the year, some things were clear.

First, the government continues to run on what is called a continuing resolution, with programs funded at 2007 fiscal year levels. Only one of 12 major appropriations measures, a $470 billion measure for the Pentagon, has been signed by President Bush.

But the standoff between the White House and majority Democrats over paying for war operations in Iraq and Afghanistan is sure to continue and likely worsen through 2008.

The president did not get another $196 billion, nor any portion of it, to pay for military operations. Democrats vow there will be no more votes this year.

Following the president's veto of a major domestic spending bill, the White House rejected a last minute compromise proposal from Senate Democratic majority leader Harry Reid aimed at resolving a standoff over government appropriations bills.

In both areas, Reid asserts the president needs to reconsider his positions, and he challenges Republicans to move away from what he considers to be intransigence at the White House:

"The president just got $470 billion that is good [to sustain the military] if we do nothing else until the end of February or the middle of March. We offered him some more money [but] he refused that. So, if they [Republicans] want to follow the president over the cliff, then they are welcome to do that. We are not going to shut the government down."

On Friday, deputy White House press secretary Tony Fratto, responding to reporter's questions, argued that any delay in getting emergency supplemental funding to the military is unacceptable and harmful, and accused Democrats of being controlled by far left anti-war groups.

"In terms of the bigger picture of what our dispute [with Democrats] is, what we see is a core constituency of the Democratic party that is driving them toward sending the president legislation to appease the views of [anti-war] groups like MoveOn.org and Code Pink, the ones who want us to simply leave and to walk out of Iraq," he said.

As lawmakers left town, it was also apparent that there will be no change for the better in the level of partisan disagreement that marked the last few months.

Democrats who assumed control of Congress last January condemning former majority Republicans for failing to pass budget bills on time, were condemned for the same thing by the new Republican minority.

Each side accused the other of doing everything possible to avoid compromise. , and :

"What I don't know is whether Democrats want to get serious about working with us to resolve our differences, or whether they want to continue to play political games," said Republican House leader John Boehner.

"President Kennedy once said to govern is to choose. And the president, both with his request for $196 billion for Iraq, and his veto of children's health care, has chosen," said Congressman Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the Democratic caucus.

The U.S. Senate and House return on December 3 and 4 respectively, facing the challenge of constructing what is likely to be one large bill combining all unfinished funding work.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans say they would like to see federal government operations shut down due to a failure to approve appropriations, but that prospect remains a possibility with a mid-December deadline for the end of temporary funding.

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