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U.S. spending obligations surge

Recent bills – for students, GIs, housing market – add to long-term budget commitments.

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Andy Nelson

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Washington - The Democratic-controlled Congress and the Bush administration have presided over a surge in new federal spending obligations that may be the most enduring legacy of the 110th Congress.

From new entitlements such as a GI bill for military veterans to recent federal commitments to shore up a troubled housing market, Washington is taking on obligations with long-term consequences for taxpayers. At the same time, critics say, lawmakers aren't exercising the oversight needed to keep these commitments manageable.

"In the last three or four months, the momentum has really built up for more spending," says Michael Franc, vice president of government relations for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington. "Congress has moved a whole range of bills that take the problem up another notch."

Here are some of the items.

•A new housing law, signed last week, commits the government to backing some $300 billion in troubled mortgages.

•A higher education bill adds $169 billion over the next five years.

•The GI bill that extends education benefits to veterans or their family members will cost $62 billion over 10 years.

•Congress boosted the statutory debt ceiling by $800 billion to $10.6 trillion. That's $4.8 trillion more than it was at the end of 2001.

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