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Mexico border security, aid to Pakistan get Senate support

House minority leader John Boehner of Ohio, at podium, with Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and other Republicans, spoke against the president's budget priorities. House minority leader John Boehner of Ohio, at podium, with Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and other Republicans, spoke against the president's budget priorities. (Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)
By Andrew Taylor
Associated Press / April 2, 2009
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WASHINGTON - The Senate voted yesterday to boost aid to Pakistan and increase funds for security along the US-Mexico border, but rejected a Republican attempt to freeze spending on domestic programs.

As lawmakers continued work on a $3.5 trillion budget blueprint for the upcoming fiscal year, the Senate approved by voice vote a plan by Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, to add $550 million to the homeland security budget to protect areas along the US-Mexico border from violent drug cartels.

Massachusetts Senator John F. Kerry won adoption of a $4 billion increase next year for aid to Pakistan, a key ally in the war against Al Qaeda.

But Democrats easily rejected a bid by Senator Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican, to freeze domestic spending at 2008 levels. The vote was 58-40.

The Senate also made it tougher to pass the cap-and-trade legislation that the Obama administration wants as part of an effort to reduce global warming. Lawmakers voted 67-31 to deny the legislation a filibuster-proof path through the Senate, meaning that 60 votes, rather than a simple majority, will be needed to pass it.

In the House, Republicans unveiled a budget plan that would cut taxes and radically overhaul Medicare. The plan offers a stark alternative to blueprints offered by President Obama and his Democratic allies.

The plan, drafted by Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan, the top Republican on the Budget Committee, also freezes overall spending on domestic programs passed by Congress each year and repeals most of the spending in Obama's recently passed economic stimulus bill.

Despite spending reductions, the plan projects permanent deficits exceeding $500 billion into the future, fueled largely by big tax cuts.

The GOP plan would offer a dramatically simplified tax code in which couples would have the option of a 10 percent rate on the first $100,000 of income, with a 25 percent rate thereafter, with the first $25,000 of income exempt from taxation. Singles could get a $12,500 exemption and a 10 percent rate on income up to $50,000. Taxpayers could also opt to remain in the current system.

The plan would have future Medicare beneficiaries - those 54 and younger - enroll in private health insurance plans and receive a subsidy on their premiums. Democrats warned that the GOP proposal would result in sharply higher costs for the elderly if the value of the subsidy failed to keep up with healthcare inflation.

The plan has no chance of becoming law, but offers voters a contrast between the rival parties. Republicans have been on the attack, though they were mocked for rushing out a detail-free budget outline last week. Ryan said Obama's budget "is little more than a thinly veiled attempt by Washington to spend its way into prosperity, tax its way into tax relief, and borrow its way into debt reduction."

Democrats dismissed the GOP alternative, comparing it to a bad April Fools joke that would return the country to failed Bush administration policies.