Image: Pelosi on Capitol Hill
Alex Wong  /  Getty Images
House speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill, Thursday, shortly before the budget resolution vote. 
updated 4/3/2009 2:09:28 AM ET 2009-04-03T06:09:28

Acting in quick succession, the House and Senate approved budgets Thursday night drawn to President Barack Obama's specifications and pointing the way toward major legislation later this year on health care, energy and education.

"It's going to take a lot of work to clean up the mess we inherited, and passing this budget is a critical step in the right direction," Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid said. "Staying true to these priorities will help turn around the economy for the many Americans who are underwater right now."

No Republicans in either house supported the budgets and GOP leaders accused Democrats of drafting plans that would hurt the recession-ravaged economy in the long run, rather than help it, as well as saddle future generations with too much debt.

"The administration's budget simply taxes too much, spends too much and borrows too much at a moment when we can least afford it," said the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell.

But a Republican alternative fared poorly in the House, where 38 Republican lawmakers voted against a plan supported by their own leadership.

On a long day and night, the House was first to vote, and approved its version of the budget on a 233-196 roll call that fell largely along party lines. It calls for spending of $3.6 trillion for the budget year that begins Oct. 1, and includes a deficit of $1.2 trillion.

Deficit soars
The Senate acted a few hours later, voting 55-43 for a slightly different blueprint that calls for spending $3.5 trillion and forecasts a deficit of $1.2 trillion.

The budget plans do not require Obama's signature, but the House and Senate will have to reconcile the two versions before they can move onto the next phase of the presidential agenda.

Both deficit forecasts are exceedingly high by historical standards. But they would represent an improvement over this year's projected total of $1.8 trillion, swollen by spending and tax cuts designed to rejuvenate the economy as well as steps to bail out the financial industry.

The day's events capped a busy three months for the Democratic-controlled Congress that took office in January.

Moving with unusual speed, lawmakers have enacted a $787 billion economic stimulus measure, cleared the way for release of $350 billion in financial industry bailout funds, approved an expansion of children's health care and sent Obama legislation setting aside more than 2 million acres in nine states as protected wilderness.

Budgets clear way for later work
The White House issued a statement hailing the House vote as "another step toward rebuilding our struggling economy."

And while they represented victories for the administration, the budgets merely cleared the way for work later in the year on key presidential priorities — expansion and overhaul of the nation's health care system, creation of a new energy policy and sweeping changes in education.

Major battles lie ahead, particularly over health care and energy. And while Obama made a series of specific proposals to fund his initiatives, congressional budget-writers avoided taking a position on his recommended curtailing of Medicare spending, for example, or imposing hundreds of billions of dollars in new costs on the nation's polluters.

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