The San Francisco Chronicle: A Democratic budget

January 31, 2007
The bright lights of the House Democrats' 100-hour agenda are in the rearview mirror. From here on, what will the new majority in Washington do with an unfinished budget that will reflect its values and not overspend?

The answer surfaced this week as Congress produced a hurry-up package costing $463.5 billion.

It almost didn't happen. Last fall, Republicans left town without nailing down a spending plan. When they returned, the Democrats were in charge. A rush job was ordered: With little time for hearings and chin-stroking thought, the majority needed a spending plan in line with party priorities and also honored a 'pay-as-you-go' pledge not to increase spending without finding new revenue.

Education, veterans and overseas AIDS programs were all due more funds, but would they get it? Now comes the answer -- much of it good -- for these programs.

Veterans' benefits for health and schooling will grow by nearly $7 billion. This category, usually above politics, was the least likely to suffer.

Democrats asserted themselves on Pell Grants, money that is given to needy college students. The increase wasn't much -- a boost of $260, bringing a grant up to $4,310 -- but it's the first rise in four years.

On AIDS, the White House has committed to a five-year plan costing $15 billion in foreign aid. This year's request for $4.5 billion will be fully funded. Another $724 million will go to the internationally run Global Fund to battle malaria and TB along with AIDS.

It's a strong signal that debate is over this year about paying for a worldwide fight against a disease that infects 40 million people, most of them in the poorest nations. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi came through on yet another early test of her leadership.