Washington — The Senate approved legislation Wednesday to lock in $85 billion in widely decried spending cuts aimed at restraining soaring federal deficits — and to avoid a government shutdown just a week away.
President Barack Obama's fellow Democrats rejected a call to reopen White House tours scrapped because of the tightened spending.
Federal meat inspectors were spared furloughs, but more than 100 small and medium air traffic facilities were left exposed to possible closure as the two parties alternately clashed and cooperated over proposals to take the edge off across-the-board spending cuts that took effect on March 1.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a deficit hawk, said he wanted to reopen the White House tours, shut down since earlier in the month. He said his proposal would take about $8 million from the National Heritage Partnership Program and apply it toward "opening up the tours at the White House, opening up Yellowstone National Park and the rest of the national parks."
White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters previously the decision to cancel the White House tours was made by the Secret Service because "it would be, in their view, impossible to staff those tours; that they would have to withdraw staff from those tours in order to avoid more furloughs and overtime pay cuts."
Final House approval of the spending bill measure is likely as early as today. Obama's signature is a certainty, meaning the cuts will remain in place at least through the end of the budget year on Sept. 30 — even though he and lawmakers in both parties have criticized them as random rather than targeted. Obama argued strongly against them in campaign-style appearances, predicting painful consequences, before they began taking effect, and Republicans objected to impacts on Pentagon spending.
Without changes, the $85 billion in cuts for the current year will swell to nearly $1 trillion over a decade, enough to make at least a small dent in economy-threatening federal deficits but requiring program cuts that lawmakers in both parties say are unsustainable politically. As a result, negotiations are possible later in the year to replace the reductions with different savings.