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Senate passes stopgap bill to avoid government shutdown

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Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,Politics Digest

The Senate on Wednesday approved a $984 billion stopgap measure to fund the government through the fiscal year but blocked several provisions to blunt the pain of sequestration, including one that would have restored canceled White House tours.

"When we pass this, we will avoid a government shutdown," Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., told lawmakers Wednesday before the 73-26 vote.

The GOP-led House is expected to approve the Senate bill this week, ending weeks-long suspense over whether Republicans and Democrats would be able to work out their differences by the time the last temporary spending measure expires on March 27.

But some Republicans were angered that the bill leaves out measures to ease the pain of the automatic spending cuts required by sequestration. The cuts have hit a wide range of government operations, including meat plant inspections and some smaller air traffic control towers.

The Senate, lead by Democrats, voted against several amendments authored by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., that would have shifted federal funding.

Coburn told lawmakers that he believes Democrats and President Obama have no interest in easing sequestration because suffering caused by the cuts bolsters their argument that government spending cannot be reduced.

In fact, Coburn said, Obama told him this was the party's motive in a telephone call.

"He wants sequester to hurt," Coburn said, recalling his conversation with the president, adding, "I challenged him on that when he said it to me."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., declined a request by Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., to debate an amendment that would have kept 173 regional airport control towers operating under sequestration. The towers, which serve small airports, are scheduled to cease operating April 7.

Reid's refusal to consider the amendment, Moran argued, "says we want to make a political point as opposed to concern for the safety of the people that fly."

Coburn's defeated amendments included a measure to reduce federal funding for wine-tasting train rides in Ohio and bluegrass festivals in North Carolina so the money could be spent to reopen the White House and Yellowstone National Park to the public.

Coburn, in a Senate floor speech, highlighted other spending for elimination, including a $28,000 project to study prohibition and $144,000 to examine how members of Congress develop their websites.

"Who cares?" Coburn said, questioning the objective of the studies. "$144,000 will keep a whole bunch of meat inspectors at meat plants."

Coburn chastised the Senate ahead of the vote on his amendments, predicting most would fail.

"It won't pass because we don't have the courage to make priority choices in the U.S. Senate."

Democrats argued against some of Coburn's proposals, including one that would have cut Urban Areas Security Initiative grants.

Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both New York Democrats, argued the money is needed to pay police officers to protect big cities from terrorist attacks.

"To tie the hands of the very people who are leading the fight on terror," Schumer said, "is the kind of micromanaging that most people in America resent Washington for."

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

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