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House Democrats' bill freezes most agency budgets

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House Democrats' bill freezes most agency budgets
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Democrats controlling the House are promising to freeze the budgets of most Cabinet departments while wrapping Congress' unfinished annual spending bills into a single catchall measure.

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The 423-page measure, unveiled in the wee hours today, would cap the agencies' operating budgets at $1.2 trillion, the level of the budget year that ended in September. That's about 4 percent less than President Barack Obama asked for.

There are many exceptions to the freeze. Health care programs for veterans and the military would get a boost, as would the Pell Grant program for low-income college students. People serving in the military would get a 1.4 percent pay raise, but civilian federal workers would have their salaries frozen, as requested by Obama last week.

The bill also would provide $159 billion to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

A widely backed food safety bill is hitching a ride on the legislation. The measure passed the Senate by a 75-25 vote last week but got caught in a snag because it contained revenue provisions that, under the Constitution, must originate in the House.

Senate Democrats are working on a different approach that would provide slightly more money and would include thousands of pet projects sought by lawmakers. It's unclear whether that measure can get enough support from Republicans to pass. The House bill is free of such "earmarks."

The House could pass its measure as early as today -- over Republican protests that it still spends too much money and that they won't have had enough time to review it. House Republicans want a short-term measure to punt the unfinished budget business into January, when they will assume the majority.

The bill combines the annual operating budgets for every federal department or agency. In an unprecedented collapse of the federal budget process, not a single one of the 12 annual spending bills has yet passed Congress.

The bill, combined with a massive measure to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, extend unemployment benefits and cut the payroll tax, represents the bulk of Congress' unfinished work as the lame-duck session approaches its close.

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