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DEMO LEADERS TRY TO DECIDE WHICH PROGRAMS TO CURTAIL

Congressional Democratic leaders are trying to decide which programs will feel the budget ax following their decision to forgo a prolonged pre-election veto battle with President Bush over spending.

The leaders said Thursday that they would bow to Bush's demands and trim bills financing housing, education and other programs.The cuts will take several billion dollars out of favorite Democratic programs - and perhaps out of programs Bush likes too. The exact figure was still being calculated, but the difference between the two sides was less than 1 percent of the $1.5 trillion federal budget.

Democratic leaders hoped the decision would blunt Republican efforts to persuade voters that Democrats are big spenders and can't run Congress.

"To some degree, this takes an issue away from him," said Rep. Vic Fazio, D-Calif., chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and a member of the House Appropriations Committee. "What he really wanted was a standoff, where no one wins and we lose more."

Even as lawmakers and Bush were clashing over spending cuts, the two sides were preparing to write checks to help victims of hurricanes Andrew and Iniki. Congress planned to send Bush a measure today for about $10.5 billion to help Hawaii and southern states rebuild from the storms.

Despite that agreement, lawmakers and Bush were jousting for political advantage as legislators wrote other spending measures.