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Budget plan shows election-year differences

WASHINGTON (AP) -- House passage of a Republican-written $1.82 trillion budget for next year draws sharp election-year distinctions between GOP lawmakers and their Democratic rivals over tax cuts and spending priorities.

But Republicans also used the plan to blur partisan differences over other issues such as education. And conservative discontent over the measure's spending levels, which has slowed a similar package in the Senate, signals that GOP leaders may have a tough time moving spending bills quickly through Congress later this year.The House approved the blueprint shortly after midnight Friday morning on a mostly party-line, 211-207 vote, nearly 14 hours after debate began. For much of the time, Democrats replayed arguments of recent budget battles, accusing the GOP of using budget surpluses for tax cuts instead of bolstering Social Security and Medicare and inviting vetoes by President Clinton.

"In their haste to embrace massive, fiscally irresponsible tax cuts, Republicans are abandoning Social Security, Medicare and fiscal responsibility," House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., said.

But Republicans said their measure set aside up to $40 billion over five years to create prescription drug coverage for Medicare recipients, though they favor a narrower plan than Clinton that omits higher-income seniors. And they noted that their plan -- like Clinton's -- would use all $1 trillion in projected Social Security benefits from 2001 through 2005 to reduce the national debt.

The budget, which does not need the president's signature, sets overall tax and spending targets for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

The GOP plan would match or exceed Clinton's proposals for veterans health-care, biomedical research and many education programs.