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.
Final House approval of the measure is likely as early as Thursday. 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.
The administration as well as Republicans picked and chose its spots in arguing for flexibility in this year's cuts.
"My hope is that gets done," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said earlier in the week of the effort to prevent layoffs among inspectors that could disrupt the nation's food supply chain. "If it does not, come mid-July we will furlough meat inspectors," he added, departing from the administration's general position that flexibility should ease all the cuts or none at all.