WASHINGTON -- House Republican leaders seemed confident they would be able to pass a $2.8 trillion budget blueprint after failing twice to win over GOP moderates displeased with its prescription for education and health spending.
The House leaders became more optimistic yesterday afternoon after promising to insert into the bill nonbinding language endorsing a 5 percent increase over President Bush's $138 billion request for a popular measure funding the departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services.
Moderates such as Michael N. Castle, Republican of Delaware, had pressed for the addition of $7 billion in health and education funds, though they promised to accept savings elsewhere in the budget to pay for them.
Already Jerry Lewis, House Appropriations Committee chairman, has orchestrated a shift of about $4 billion to such programs, taking the money from defense and foreign aid accounts.
The annual congressional budget resolution is a nonbinding blueprint that establishes lawmakers' tax and spending priorities, setting the broad outlines for subsequent bills that cut or raise taxes and spending.
Still, a handful of conservatives are unhappy about voting for the budget plan because a vote for the measure also endorses a $653 billion increase in the national debt -- to $9.6 trillion.
The official deadline for Congress to wrap up the budget outline came and went a month ago, but divisions among House Republicans have kept party leaders from bringing the House version of the measure to a vote.
The Senate passed its budget plan in March, but moderate Republicans and politically endangered GOP senators voted with Democrats to approve more than $16 billion in spending above Bush's $873 billion cap on agency budgets approved by Congress each year. Moderates such as Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, are adamant about obtaining additional funding for a labor, health, and education funding bill that will advance later this year.
But with House conservatives insisting on adhering to Bush's spending limits, it's commonly assumed that the House and Senate won't be able to agree on a final budget blueprint.
Still, GOP leaders want to avoid the embarrassment of not being able to at least pass a budget through the House for the first time since congressional budget rules were put in place in 1975.
''It's just time to move on with this," said John A. Boehner, House majority leader.
One reason is that the House is poised to pass the first two of 11 spending bills this week for the upcoming budget year. One of the chief reasons to pass a budget plan is to set a ''cap" for those bills, though there are plenty of ways for the House to move ahead without a budget.
With Republicans anticipating a mostly stand-pat year -- with no major tax cuts on the agenda and efforts to cut benefit programs iffy at best -- passing a budget plan isn't critical.
This year's budget plan, developed by the House Budget Committee, reflects election-year realities and drops President Bush's proposed cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, crop subsidies, and other politically sensitive programs. But to the dismay of moderates, the proposal adopts the president's plan to trim spending by most Cabinet agencies.
The plan covers the 2007 budget year beginning Oct. 1, and besides adopting Bush's $873 billion cap on agency budgets renewed by Congress each year, also assumes just $50 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. That's less than one-half of expected spending for the current year.
Even so, it would produce a deficit of $348 billion in 2007 and deficits totaling more than $1 trillion through 2011 if Congress enacts its policies.
The plan endorses Bush's call for a 7 percent increase in the core defense budget -- which doesn't include Iraq war costs -- for next year.
That increase comes at the expense of domestic programs such as education, health research, and grants to local governments and relief agencies.
The plan also assumes $226 billion in additional tax cuts over five years, more than half of which would go for extending Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. Most of those cuts are set to expire in 2010.