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Wed March 20, 2013
Senate Approves Plan To Keep Government Funded Through September
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
In Congress this week, there's a lot of action related to the federal budget. Today, the Senate approved a measure known as the continuing resolution. It would avoid a shutdown, keeping government operations funded through September. The House is expected to sign off on the same measure quickly. Also this week, both the House and Senate are expected to pass budget resolutions.
NPR's Tamara Keith has been watching all the action from Capitol Hill and joins us now. And, Tam, let's start with the continuing resolution, the CR, wasn't this supposed to be done days ago?
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Oh, yes. But this is the U.S. Senate we're talking about. Things get gummed up here. And in this case, there was a dispute over amendments and that brought the bill to a screeching halt. Senators offered some 90 different amendments. And that's because this was the one big opportunity to try to undo some of the sequester cuts or change them. And so they tried to attach a lot of things.
Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas had an amendment that would have kept contract air traffic controllers on the job at smaller airports around the country. A whole bunch of airports are set to have to close their towers as a result of these automatic spending cuts, the sequester. And so he held up the vote most of the day yesterday, insisting that his amendment get a vote.
Here he was on the Senate floor earlier today.
SENATOR JERRY MORAN: This point may never be proven about the safety. But once there's an accident and somebody dies and a plane crashes, the question will always be: What if there had been an air traffic control tower there? What if we had left the program in place?
KEITH: But his amendment didn't make the cut. Senate majority leader Harry Reid argued that it just wasn't possible to consider all of the measures. Moran felt that Reid just wanted this one to go through and have the sequester cuts be there, to make the sequester look really bad and make Republicans look bad, you know, all politics all the time.
SIEGEL: But some of the amendments did make the cut. Which ones?
KEITH: There were a total of 10 amendments, several from Oklahoma's Tom Coburn, who has been scouring the federal budget looking for waste that - it's, I think, a hobby of his, possibly. One of his amendments would have taken money from the National Heritage Partnership Program to fund White House tours. The White House is cutting them off as a result of the sequester. And there's been a ton of outrage about this, especially among Republican members of Congress. That amendment failed.
But another one to take funding from political science research and move it to cancer research passed. And then an amendment from Senator Pryor and Senator Blunt rearranges funding to keep meat inspectors on the job. This had been a big concern with the sequester. If meat inspectors weren't on the job, the worry was that the food supply chain could be slowed down.
SIEGEL: That's Senator Pryor, Democrat of Arkansas, and Blunt, Republican of Missouri, so it's bipartisan.
KEITH: Bipartisan, and it passed.
SIEGEL: The continuing resolution now heads back to the House, and the House doesn't always accept what the Senate passes. What are you expecting this time?
KEITH: Smooth sailing this time and no government shutdown. They don't want a shutdown, so this measure will be brought up with no amendments, and it's expected to pass easily.
SIEGEL: Now, this bill keeps the government funded for the rest of the year, through September. But most of the oxygen in Congress recently has gone to a pair of budget bills. Where do those stand?
KEITH: The House will vote on the spending plan from Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan tomorrow. It's expected to pass. They spent all day today debating other alternatives and voting on them - voting them all down, in fact. There were two progressive budgets, one from the Democratic caucus. One Republican congressman offered up the Senate's budget, presumably so that it would fail, which it did.
And finally, the conservative Republican Study Committee offered a budget that would balance in just four years as opposed to the 10 it takes into the Ryan budget. Congressman Rob Woodall from Georgia spoke in favor of the study committee budget.
REPRESENTATIVE ROB WOODALL: This is a budget that makes tough decisions. You're not going to find a family in this country, Mr. Chairman, that hasn't had to make tough decisions during tough economic times. And the question is: Why won't the U.S. House of Representatives, why won't the U.S. Senate, why won't the United States president do exactly the same thing?
KEITH: So that one failed, all of them failed. The Senate will take up its budget tomorrow. And that process is going to be crazy and interesting: 50 hours, lots of amendments. They call it a vote-o-rama.
KEITH: So we'll have to stay tuned for that one.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Tamara Keith speaking to us from Capitol Hill. Thanks, Tam.
KEITH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.