Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a deficit hawk, said he wanted to reopen the White House tours, shut down since earlier in the month. He said his proposal would take about $8 million from the National Heritage Partnership Program and apply it toward "opening up the tours at the White House, opening up Yellowstone National Park and the rest of the national parks."
White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters previously the decision to cancel the White House tours was made by the Secret Service because "it would be, in their view, impossible to staff those tours; that they would have to withdraw staff from those tours in order to avoid more furloughs and overtime pay cuts."
But in remarks on the Senate floor, Coburn said, "This is a Park Service issue, not a Secret Service issue."
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said the funds involved in Coburn's amendment would not go to the Secret Service, and as a result the tours "would not be affected." He also said the Heritage program, a public-private partnership, helps produce economic development and should not be cut.
The vote was 54-45 against the proposal. Montana Sen. Max Baucus, whose state borders on Yellowstone National Park, was the only Democrat to vote with Republicans.
The Park Service has announced some parks may open late to automobile traffic this spring because budget cuts have reduced funds available to clear roads of winter snow.
The overall legislation locks in the $85 billion in spending cuts through the end of the budget year, yet provides several departments and agencies with flexibility in coping with them. It extends flexibility to the Pentagon, the departments of Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, Justice, State and Commerce and the Food and Drug Administration.
But bipartisanship has its limits, and in private negotiations, Republicans rejected Democratic attempts to provide flexibility for the rest of the government.
That set off a scramble among lawmakers to round up support for changes on a case-by-case basis.
The provision to prevent furloughs for federal meat inspectors had the support of industry as well as from both sides of the political aisle and cleared without a vote. It was supported by Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, a Democrat seeking re-election next year, and Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, who quietly helped Democrats round up the votes they needed to clear the legislation over a procedural hurdle.
The effect was to transfer $55 million to the Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service from other accounts within the department, including deferred maintenance.
"Without this funding, every meat, poultry, and egg processing facility in the country would be forced to shut down for up to two weeks," said Blunt. "That means high food prices and less work for the hardworking Americans who work in these facilities nationwide."
In contrast to Blunt, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, opposed Democrats when they sought to overcome procedural hurdles earlier in the week.In the days since, he repeatedly refused to let the bill advance unless he was given a chance to cancel about $50 million in cuts aimed at contract employees at more than 170 air traffic facilities around the country. In the end, his amendment was jettisoned without a vote.