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US Congress Nears Completion of Budget Plan

The U.S. House and Senate are nearing completion of a $2.6 trillion budget plan for next year. After both chambers vote, the bill goes to President Bush for his signature.

The legislation is a budget framework, and does not actually fund programs. Appropriations bills for federal agencies and departments working their way through Congress will do that.

Majority Republicans say the budget plan will reduce the expanding budget deficit by cutting spending.

Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. "Our generation is running up the bill and we are passing this on to our children, and our children will have to bear huge costs in order to pay off this 44 trillion dollars in debt that we have added up. To pay that off, their quality of life is going to have to be reduced, unless we do something now," he said.

But Democrats believe the budget plan will only lead to larger deficits. "Those who have assured us repeatedly that deficits are being dealt with have failed the credibility test, and they have absolutely failed the test of fiscal responsibility. This budget bears no relationship to fiscal conservatism or fiscal responsibility," said Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota is the top Democrat on the Budget Committee.

Democrats say budget deficits will grow because the budget blueprint does not include the rising costs for the war in Iraq nor the costs of reforming the Social Security pension system.

The plan seeks savings, in part, through controversial cuts in the Medicaid, the health care program for the poor, which has seen huge spending increases.

At the same time, the measure calls on Congress to approve billions of dollars in additional tax cuts over the next five years, the details of which are to be worked out later.

The overall legislation is a compromise between bills each passed by the House and Senate earlier this year. Democrats were left out of the negotiations on the budget deal, a point they angrily noted in speeches on the House and Senate floor.