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Congress Readies Huge Year-End Spending Bill

Andrew Taylor | The Associated Press via YellowBrix

December 09, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) – Congressional negotiators sealed agreement Tuesday night on sweeping spending legislation that boosts housing and heating subsidies but curbs President Barack Obama’s requests for aid to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The move comes as lawmakers wrapped the budgets of nine Cabinet agencies into a $1.1 trillion spending bill they hope to complete before a stopgap measure expires Dec. 18.

The measure would combine six of the dozen routine annual appropriations bills for the budget year that began Oct. 1. It combines a huge increase in foreign aid with an 18 percent cut to a program that helps states with the cost of incarcerating criminal illegal immigrants.

The proposal continues current policy that permits detainees held at the Guantanamo Bay detention center to be transferred to the United States to stand trial but not to be released.

The bill reflects Democrats’ control of Congress and the White House. A long-standing ban on the funding of abortion by the District of Columbia government would be overturned, as would a ban on that city’s needle exchange programs. It would phase out a Washington, D.C., school voucher program favored by Republicans.

There’s $2.5 billion for high-speed rail programs, which comes on top of $8 billion approved earlier this year as part of President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus program. A program that subsidizes flights to and from rural airports _ sometimes at thousands of dollars per ticket _ would receive $200 million, a 47 percent increase.

But while the measure provides a huge boost to foreign aid, Democrats forced a $151 million cut to Obama’s almost $2.8 billion request for economic and security aid to Afghanistan. Obama’s $1.6 billion request for aid to Pakistan would be cut $124 million.

All told, the measure blends $447 billion for the daily operating budgets of the nine Cabinet departments with more than $600 billion for benefits such as Medicare and Medicaid.

The measure would also set up an appeals process for the 3,000 car dealerships closed by General Motors and Chrysler earlier this year. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said dealers challenging closure decisions could enter binding arbitration.

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