WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate cleared a spending bill Wednesday that will prevent a government shutdown but lock in the budget cuts expected to result in furloughs and other disruptions.
A Pentagon official said Wednesday that the legislation, which beefs up some Defense Department accounts and allows more flexibility in spending, may mean civilian employees are furloughed fewer than the 22 days previously announced. Oklahoma has about 24,000 civilian defense workers who may be subject to furlough days.
The bill passed 73 to 26, with both Oklahoma senators voting against. It now goes to the House, which is expected to approve it and send it to the president.
Before the final vote, senators voted on a series of amendments aimed at blunting the impact of the spending cuts that went into effect on March 1. An amendment by Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, to maintain tuition assistance to military personnel was approved, as was a proposal by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, to end some funding of political science research by the National Science Foundation.
An amendment by Coburn to resume White House tours and ensure the openings of national parks was defeated. The Senate passed an amendment to prevent furloughs of food inspectors. An amendment to protect air traffic control towers from closing at rural airports was not considered.
Funding for most government departments was set to run out next Wednesday, but lawmakers from both parties have worked to prevent another fiscal crisis in a town that has lurched from one to another in recent years.
The spending bill incorporates the $85 billion in spending cuts known as the sequester and funds the government through Sept. 30.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who guided the bill through the Senate, said the legislation “protects national security while meeting compelling human needs.”
Inhofe said the military tuition assistance program, which his amendment restored, “is critical to recruiting and retention efforts, and improves the lives of our men and women seeking leadership growth within the military or those transitioning back into the civilian workforce.”
But he said the overall bill was “fraught with problems.”
“While certain patches were made to potentially mitigate some furloughs, it did not afford the full flexibility the service chiefs requested, leaving not only jobs at risk but also the readiness of our military,'' Inhofe said.
Coburn, referring to his unsuccessful amendment to take money from national heritage areas to fund White House tours and national parks, said, “I'm disappointed my colleagues prioritized wine train tours and Ukrainian Easter egg workshops ahead of tours to the White House and national parks.
“This vote shows that some in Washington are intent on essentially declaring war on tourists in order to prove an ideological point about sequestration … However, I'm pleased the Senate accepted an amendment that restricts funding to low-priority political science grants. There is no reason to spend $251,000 studying Americans' attitudes toward the U.S. Senate when citizens can figure that out for free.”