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Congress passes $3.4 trillion budget

WASHINGTON — Democrats in Congress capped President Barack Obama's 100th day in office by advancing a $3.4 trillion federal budget for next year — a third of it borrowed — that prevents Republicans from blocking his proposed trillion-dollar expansion of government-provided health care over the next decade.

Wednesday's House and Senate votes to adopt the nonbinding budget blueprint were only a first step toward Obama's goal of providing health care coverage for all Americans. The budget plan for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 sets the parameters for subsequent tax and spending bills expected to boost clean energy programs and student aid and extend many of former President George W. Bush's tax cuts.

"It's a budget that reduces taxes, lowers the deficit and creates jobs," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said. "It honors the three pillars of the Obama initiatives: energy, health care and education."

Obama cheered passage of the plan, saying in a statement that it "builds on the steps we've taken over the last 100 days to move this economy from recession to recovery and ultimately to prosperity."

The Senate adopted the plan by a 53-43 vote just hours after a 233-193 House tally.

Newly-turned Democrat Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania voted against the measure as he did earlier this month when it initially passed the Senate. Three other Democrats also voted no: Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Evan Bayh of Indiana.

Seventeen House Democrats, mostly from GOP-leaning districts, voted against the budget.

Not a single Republican in the House or Senate voted for the measure.

In Washington

Hate crimes: Gay victims of violence would gain new federal protections under a revived and expanded hate crimes bill passed by the House on Wednesday over conservatives' objections. Hate crimes — as defined by the bill — are those motivated by prejudice and based someone's race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. The bill passed 249-175.

Crack laws: The Obama administration joined U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton in urging Congress to end a racial disparity by equalizing prison sentences for dealing and using crack vs. powdered cocaine. "Jails are loaded with people who look like me," Walton, an African-American, told a Senate judiciary subcommittee.

'Liar loans': A House panel approved legislation to outlaw "liar loans" and other questionable bank practices. The proposal, by North Carolina Democratic Reps. Melvin Watt and Brad Miller, is one several Democrats are pushing to tighten regulations on an industry that underwrote risky loans and passed off the bad debt to investors.

Detention critic joins Pentagon: The Obama administration has chosen former Army Capt. Phillip E. Carter, a lawyer and Iraq war veteran who has denounced U.S. detention policy, to direct detainee affairs at the Department of Defense.

Times wires

Congress passes $3.4 trillion budget 04/29/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 11:04pm]
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