U.S. Senate approves version of Bush's budget proposal

A Senate panel approved a scaled-back version of President George W.Bush's budget, shorn of signature initiatives such as tax relief and cuts to federal benefit programs such as health care for the elderly.

With Republicans nervous about cutting popular programs in an election year and still nursing wounds from a bruising round of benefit cuts last year, the Budget Committee gave party-line 11-10 approval Thursday to a budget that takes few risks but also makes little progress in addressing the long-term fiscal problems facing the government.

Driven by political concerns, Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg, a Republican, dropped Bush's proposals for expanding tax-free medical accounts and restraining spending for the Medicare health care program for senior citizens. He also seeks to shift about $5 billion ( Ђ 4.2 billion) from the Pentagon and foreign aid budgets to cash-strapped domestic programs like education and homeland security.

The measure heads to the Senate floor Monday, but with congressional election-year anxiety running high, there's no guarantee the full Senate will actually pass the Republican budget blueprint.

"I'm not going in with the votes, I can tell you that much," Gregg told The Associated Press. "There's a high level of angst and indecision out there."

For starters, five Republicans opposed to oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge have warned Gregg they'll probably oppose his plan on the floor for including a provision to permit ANWR drilling to advance via the filibuster-proof budget process.

There are 55 Republicans in the Senate, which means no additional defections could occur if the bill is to squeak through with Vice President Dick Cheney casting a tie-breaking vote, reports the AP.


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