WASHINGTON -- The Congressional Budget Office estimates that Sen. George Mitchell's proposal for easing curbs on 501(c)(3) bonds would cost the federal government a staggering $1 billion over the next 10 years.

Lobbyists said the high price tag, announced by the budget office yesterday, puts the Maine Democrat's provision in danger of being eliminated or scaled back in the final version of health care legislation, which Congress is expected to attempt to pass later this year.

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