Italian lawmakers give deficit-busting budget 1st approval

Italian lawmakers have given their first approval to the populist government's deficit-busting spending plan for 2019.

The lower Chamber of Deputies on Friday night OK'd the proposal, put to a confidence vote to help close bickering ranks in Premier Giuseppe Conte's coalition. But the spending plan is expected to be modified before the Senate takes it up later this month.

The Italian government's initial strategy of increasing Italy's debt to 2.4 percent of GDP alarmed European Union executives, who warned Italy that it would severely violate euro-currency rules and risk a fine.

After financial markets reacted with alarm to the prospect of an Italian-EU standoff, coalition leaders said the target might be lowered to 2.1-2.2 percent of GDP. Keeping campaign promises of pension reforms and state income for the poor would swell government spending.