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Budget Battle Underway in US Congress

The battle over President Obama's $3.55 trillion budget for 2010 and projections for coming years is underway in Congress. Both the House of Representatives and Senate are expected to pass their versions of a budget resolution by the end of the week, as Democrats and Republicans do battle over the question of deficit spending and debt in a recession economy.

Budget resolutions do not have the force of law, but serve as guidelines for later appropriations and other legislation in Congress.

After House and Senate passage, negotiating teams will work to resolve differences so a single measure can be completed and voted on by the end of April.

House Democrats and Republicans used news conferences to argue for their respective proposals.

Democrats say they would cut the current $1.8 trillion deficit, which they note was left by the Bush administration, to $587 billion by 2014, while making crucial investments in health care, education, alternative energy and other areas to help create jobs and move the country out of recession.

House budget committee chairman John Spratt says Democrat's budgets would achieve these goals while being "deficit neutral." "If you want to vote for bold initiatives, believing that we shouldn't let the education of our children wait, it has to be done now not put off for the future. If you want to vote for bold initiatives like that, like health insurance for the millions that don't have it, our resolution lays the framework for it. We make it happen."

Democrat's budget outline provides a list of what are called "reserve funds" across a range of spending categories.

This would allow lawmakers to be seen in a vote as generally supporting President Obama's objectives, while delaying firmer commitments on the most challenging items like the president's health care and global warming economic initiatives.

As Republicans unveiled their own alternative proposal they assert would produce $3.6 trillion less in long-term debt than the president's, Republican Representative Paul Ryan accused Democrats are using deceptive techniques to hide the real impact of their proposals on the economy.

"In the House [Democrat's budget], we have 17 reserve funds. What is that? It's just a way of camouflaging the budget from what it really is, which is the president's budget. So the point we are [making] is, do you take this tough position we are in and fix it or make it worse? We are saying let's fix it, they are making it worse," he said.

Republicans also want to limit spending in 2010 under President Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus measure, except for unemployment insurance for out-of-work Americans, and freeze non-defense spending for five years.

They would also take steps toward reforming expensive government-funded entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security, cut corporate taxes, reform the tax code, and increase oil and natural gas exploration.

Democrat John Spratt said Republican proposals would make "deep eviscerating" cuts in government programs. House majority leader Steny Hoyer called them "draconian."

There was also fierce debate in the Senate where Republicans continued to rail against the Obama budget and Democrats accused Republicans of trying to block progress on urgent domestic priorities.

Senate Republican Judd Gregg and Democrat Dick Durbin spoke on the Senate floor:

GREGG: "The real threat which we have as a nation from a fiscal policy standpoint [is] the out-year debt. We are going to be passing on to our children a debt which is not sustainable. Deficits of a trillion dollars a year for as far as the eye can see."

DURBIN: "You saw these Republican senators, many of whom think they are "green" and environmentally-sensitive, stand up and try to put every blockade in the road to stop us from debating and passing legislation to deal with climate change and global warming. Shame on the Senate. Shame on the Senate for finding some reason, some excuse not to tackle this tough issue."

Republicans also continued to criticize Democrats for reserving the right to use "budget reconciliation", a procedure which would help pass President Obama's major proposals by preventing minority Republicans from filibustering (blocking) proposals in the Senate.

Majority leader Hoyer responded to Republican warnings that doing so would destroy hopes for bipartisan cooperation as the budget process moves on. "This is the regular order [way of doing things]. This is provided for in our rules. It is provided for in our rules so that we can facilitate moving ahead on issues critical to the American public," he said.

Majority leader Hoyer declined to anticipate whether the reconciliation option, contained in the House budget version, would be eliminated during House-Senate negotiations, noting that Republicans repeatedly employed the tactic when they were in the majority.