U.S. Senate Votes To Keep The White House Closed To Public Tours

Senate votes to keep White House closed, slaughterhouses open (Washington Times, March 20, 2013):

Senators voted Wednesday to keep the White House closed to public tours, turning back a Republican-led effort to free up money to open the building back up after the sequesters.

But at the same time senators did vote to restore money for slaughterhouse inspections, which they said will help make sure the country’s meat-packing plants can continue to operate at full steam despite the sequesters.Those voters were two of a series of high-profile showdowns on the Senate floor Wednesday as it pushed toward passage of a bill to fund the government through the rest of this fiscal year.

The bill cleared on a 73-26 vote and sends the bill back to the House, which is expected to pass it and send it to President Obama without any hiccups. That will ensure the government avoids a shutdown later this month.

As part of the debate, senators also voted to limit federal spending on political science research, but shot down a move to boost the Pentagon’s operations budget and by cutting from its biofuels program.

The votes mark the first chance lawmakers have had to grapple with specific spending after the sequesters, which were the automatic budget cuts that went into effect March 1 and that have slashed agency budgets across the federal government.

Senators nibbled away what they considered the worst parts of the sequester by restoring the military’s tuition assistance programs and adding back the money for food inspectors at slaughterhouses. Without that money, inspectors were going to have to be furloughed, which would have cut 5 billions of pounds of beef, pork and poultry production out of the U.S. economy this year.

But they declined to undo Mr. Obama’s decision to cancel White House tours — a move he made earlier this month as one of the casualties of the budget sequesters, setting off a chorus of complaints from Congress and the public.

Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, offered an amendment to free up $8 million to keep both the White House and several national parks open on their regular schedules. He proposed reclaiming money from national heritage areas elsewhere in the National Park Service budget.Democrats objected, saying it was a show vote that was not going to accomplish what Mr. Coburn said it would. They also said canceling park service heritage money would hurt their home states.

They defeated Mr. Coburn’s amendment on a 54-45 vote, with nearly every Republican voting to reopen the White House and with almost all Democrats voting to back Mr. Obama’s decision.

Congress is trying to pass the end-of-year funding before it leaves town for a two-week vacation. The House already passed its version of the bill, but senators had bogged down in fighting over what amendments they would even be allowed to vote on.

“We’re focused on all the wrong things because it’s all about the next election,” Mr. Coburn said.

Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, said that the proposal was not a real fix for national park funding.

“In addition there has been some suggesting that this would help restore White House tours. Those tours are governed by the security service, which is not part of this amendment, so that would not be affected,” he said.

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