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Democrats Expect Outreach Will Secure Budget Passage

Having temporarily dispensed with the Iraq War spending bill, House lawmakers will turn to the $2.9 trillion fiscal 2008 budget this week, the first time the chamber’s Democrats will set the nation’s fiscal priorities since 1994.

Democratic leaders expect a relatively uncomplicated process, citing efforts by Budget Chairman John Spratt (D-S.C.) to meet with Caucus factions in recent weeks. The leadership expects a final vote on the budget as early as Thursday.

“Chairman Spratt and the leadership have been talking to Members for many weeks to create consensus, and as a result I believe you will see great unity on our principles and priorities this Thursday,” said Stacey Bernards, spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

In the meantime, Republicans plan to reiterate their message criticizing the budget document as a sizable tax increase, and they expect their rank-and-file Members to largely oppose the measure.

“We expect [the GOP] Conference to be very unified in opposition to this budget, given its tax-and-spend approach to balancing the federal government’s books,” said Brian Kennedy, spokesman for Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Both the Democratic Caucus and Republican Conference are slated to review the budget proposal, and possible alternatives, at their weekly meetings today.

In addition, Democrats intend to spend the week highlighting domestic portions of the budget — including veterans’ benefits, education and health care — as well as “fiscal responsibility” measures that would produce a budget surplus by 2012.

Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Bob Filner (D-Calif.) and other lawmakers are scheduled to tout Democrats’ addition of $5.4 billion over President Bush’s request for veterans’ benefits Tuesday, focusing on health care issues including mental care and prosthetic research, as well as housing.

Across the aisle, Republicans will focus their message on three areas, emphasizing a balanced budget without allowing tax cuts approved in 2001 and 2003 to expire, while also criticizing spending increases in the Democratic budget and calling for reforms to entitlement programs. “The era of tax and spend is back,” Kennedy asserted.

The minority is also planning an aggressive media campaign, reaching out to editorial writers nationwide, organizing a “blog row” of conservative authors to take place Wednesday, when debate is expected to begin, and even focusing attacks on fiscally conservative Democrats in the Blue Dog Coalition.

But Blue Dog lawmakers are widely expected to support the Democratic-authored budget — the group has praised the inclusion of pay-as-you-go rules, as well as a boost for defense spending and the projected budget surplus.

“I applaud Chairman Spratt for his commitment to two principles we as Blue Dogs believe are essential if a government is to be accountable to its people — a strong national defense and fiscal responsibility,” Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), a Blue Dog co-chairman, said in a statement.

Republicans also will seek to offer at least two substitute budget proposals, one from the conservative Republican Study Committee and another from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), ranking member on the Budget Committee.

Democrats have largely rejected Republican criticisms as disingenuous.

“The Republicans don’t have a record to be proud of: The president’s budget has turned surpluses into deficits. The Democratic budget brings fiscal responsibility back to Washington and funds the right priorities for our nation,” asserted Democratic Caucus spokesman Nick Papas.

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