Congress discusses budget plans

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress is finally cleaning up its unfinished budget business for the 2013 budget year with a bipartisan government-wide funding bill. But even as that measure heads toward approval, the House and Senate are moving toward divisive votes that will underscore sharp differences on a bigger problem: how to fix the nation’s long-term deficit woes.

The Senate is positioned to approve the catchall spending bill today after it cleared a procedural hurdle Monday by a strong 63-35 vote. The House, which approved a narrower version two weeks ago, is expected to quickly clear the measure and ship it to President Barack Obama for his signature.

On a separate track, the GOP-controlled House and Democratic Senate are readying votes this week on sharply different budget blueprints for next year and beyond. The measures are non-binding and largely symbolic. But they veer off in opposite directions at the same time President Barack Obama seeks to nurture a future compromise blending new tax revenues with spending cuts beyond what his Democratic allies are willing to offer now.

The rival House and Senate budgets for the future are party-defining documents with zero chance of making their way into law as written, given the division of power in Washington.

House Republicans are moving first with a plan sharply slashing health care for the poor, budgets for domestic agencies like the FBI and the National Park Service and safety net programs like food stamps.

Senate Democrats are countering with a mostly stand-pat approach that hikes taxes by almost $1 trillion over a decade while reversing already-enacted across-the-board spending cuts that are slamming both the Pentagon and domestic agencies.

The House budget measure, if enacted into law, promises a balanced ledger by the end of a decade; the Senate budget would leave significantly larger deficits but stabilize the national debt as a share of the economy, a measure that economists say is essential to avoiding a debt crisis like Greece and other European nations have experienced.

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