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Obama gets budget passed. Fast? Yes. Bipartisan? Nope

The House and Senate both approved budget resolutions of about $3.5 trillion, backing key Obama priorities such as green energy and healthcare reform.

By Staff writer / April 3, 2009

Proud parents: Democratic House leaders including House majority leader Steny Hoyer (l.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (c.) address a news conference on the 2010 House budget resolution April 2.

Scott J. Farrell/Congressional Quarterly/NEWSCOM

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With two key votes this week, Congress is on track to pass a 2010 budget plan of stunning size and scope – without a single Republican vote.

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The budget resolutions passed by the House and Senate Thursday mark a strong show of support from a diverse Democratic caucus for a popular president at a time of economic distress.

Just three months into a new Congress, President Obama and Democratic leaders are setting a blistering pace.

“Tonight, the Senate has joined the House of Representatives in taking an important step toward rebuilding our struggling economy,” said Mr. Obama in a statement after Thursday votes.

But budget votes also signal how tough it can be to change the culture of a Capitol deeply divided along partisan lines.

The budget resolutions – $3.55 trillion in the House, $3.5 trillion in the Senate – hew close to Obama’s top priorities, including a shift to clean energy, access to healthcare, and a more decisive federal role in education.

Both also project deficits of $1.2 trillion in FY 2010, down from the $1.8 trillion deficit expected this year.

“The whole budget gives you sticker shock, obviously,” says Rep. Alan Boyd (D) of Florida, a key member of the conservative Blue Dog caucus, who voted for the budget resolution.

“But again that’s the honesty of this budget. None of the Bush budgets were honest. He’d send them up here without war costs in them ... without estate taxes, without all those things we knew we’d do,” he added.

In exchange for their support, conservative Democrats negotiated a commitment to find offsets to pay for big-ticket items, such as a fix for the Alternative Minimum Tax or restoring cuts in physician fees in Medicare. If these items aren’t fully paid for, Blue Dogs say that they have a commitment from Democratic leadership to make it a legal requirement to find offsets for any new spending or tax cuts.

“It’s a budget of very large scope because a very great deal has to be done to change the disastrous course we’re on,” says Rep. Barney Frank (D) of Massachusetts, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee.

The policy differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill, expected to be negotiated over the next two weeks, are relatively trivial.

But there’s a procedural battle looming that could determine the fate of Obama’s top domestic reform. That’s the question of whether or not to include health, education, and energy reform in a fast-track procedure that blocks Senate filibusters.