Washington • The Senate approved legislation Wednesday to lock in $85 billion in broad federal spending cuts and simultaneously avoid a government shutdown next week and pointedly rejected a call to reopen White House tours that the Obama administration says had to be canceled because of the cuts.
If the House goes along, as expected, that means the across-the-board cuts set in motion by a failed earlier deficit-cutting effort and vigorously decried by President Barack Obama last month will remain in effect for the rest of the fiscal year through Sept. 30.
Some adjustments will be made. Federal meat inspectors were spared furloughs, for example, as lawmakers in both parties alternately clashed and cooperated over proposals to take the edge off the deficit-fighting cuts that took effect on March 1.
The administration as well as Republicans skeptical of White House insistence that certain cuts were mandated picked and chose its spots.
"My hope is that gets done," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said this week of the effort to prevent layoffs among inspectors that could disrupt the nation's food supply chain. That was a departure from the administration's general position that flexibility should ease all the cuts or none at all.
The overall measure passed 73-26. A final House sign-off is expected as early as Thursday, before lawmakers begin a two-week vacation. The legislation provides $982 billion for federal agencies to remain in operation through the Sept. 30 end of the budget year, a level that takes into account the broad, deficit-fighting reductions that Congress passed and Obama signed into law more than a year ago.
Without changes, the $85 billion in cuts for the current year will swell to nearly $1 trillion over a decade, levels 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 to restrain surging federal deficits.