A budget endorsing $550 billion in tax cuts through 2013 passed narrowly in the House early Friday but faces an uncertain fate in the Senate, where moderate Republican Olympia Snowe of Maine appears to hold the decisive vote.
Divided mostly along party lines, the House voted 216-211 for the $2.27 trillion budget, which sets guidelines for spending and tax bills passed this year. GOP leaders had reworked it to make sure a $550 billion tax cut would be protected from a Senate filibuster.
President Bush praised the passage of the budget, which delivers three-quarters of the tax cut he had proposed.
The budget "reflects my priorities of winning the war against terrorism, protecting Americans at home and strengthening economic growth," Mr. Bush said in a statement released Friday by the White House.
Congressional tax writers say they can fit the president's economic growth package — an acceleration of income tax cuts and reduction of dividend taxes — within the smaller framework.
The budget "funds our priorities, restrains spending and provides opportunities for passage of a robust jobs and growth package," Mr. Bush said. "I commend the house for passing this measure and look forward to prompt passage in the Senate."
That passage is not yet assured. Senate Republican leaders have yet to overcome concerns among their moderate members about burgeoning deficits, projected in the budget to peak at $385 billion next year and then decline gradually and disappear in 2012. The budget also raises the nation's legal debt limit nearly $1 trillion.
"We've spent money like drunken sailors," said George Voinovich, R-Ohio. "This place does not set priorities. This place does not make hard decisions. This place just continues to say 'yes' without any consideration to the next generation."
Voinovich will probably vote for the budget, aides said, but Snowe remains undecided. Other defections from the Republican camp leave GOP leaders needing Snowe and the tie-breaking ballot of Vice President Dick Cheney to adopt the budget in the Senate.
"I expect that we'll have a majority vote tomorrow," said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Don Nickles, R-Okla.
The budget does not take into account the cost of the war, even though lawmakers simultaneously negotiated an $80 billion emergency spending bill to pay for military action in Iraq and bolster homeland security. Leaders hope to complete both measures by Friday before leaving for a two-week spring recess.
"This is the best deal that we can get. It will only get worse, and we need a budget," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas.
Senate moderates say any tax cut larger than $350 billion cannot pass the Senate, but the structure of the budget will give the president's staunchest tax supporters the opportunity to change their minds — and their votes.
The version hammered out Thursday requires that the Senate's version of a tax bill be limited to $350 billion. The House can cut taxes as much as $550 billion over a decade, and the legislation produced in a House-Senate conference can match the House's target.
The rest of the budget strikes a more moderate tone than the version passed by the House. The portion of federal spending controlled by Congress can increase to $784 billion. It drops instructions that committees cut veterans benefits, health care and other automatic benefit programs to help curtail projected deficits.
Democrats said the GOP-drafted budget and its tax cuts commit future generations to paying off the cost of current debts. "This is morally irresponsible," said Ron Kind, D-Wis.
Republicans countered that tax cuts will improve the federal ledger by stimulating economic growth, and they questioned Democrats' commitment to deficit reduction. "Don't come to the floor and tell us about our big debt increase when you ask for more money," said House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa.
The House and Senate negotiators working on the war spending bill continued to debate whether to accept millions of dollars added in the Senate. The items included $50 million to help the U.S. shipbuilding industry and a provision helping catfish producers share in emergency farm aid approved months ago.