Senate rejects Coburn's amendment to restore tours of White House

The Senate rejected an amendment to the continued spending resolution from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) that would have provided funds to reopen the White House to public tours.

His amendment failed on a 45-54 vote Wednesday as the Senate considers the $984 billion spending bill to fund the government after March 27.

Coburn’s amendment 93 would have restored funding for public tours to the White House and other national parks by shifting money from a Heritage Area account that the administration had even targeted for spending reductions.

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The White House announced earlier this month that it would be forced to stop public White House tours in order to cut costs because of the sequester. Republicans have criticized the decision, saying it politicized the sequester cuts by making them hurt American families during the busy D.C. tourist season.

“President Obama has called on Congress to take action to avoid the harmful effects of sequestration,” Coburn said. “This amendment uses the administration’s own recommendations to reduce funding for lower-priority Heritage Areas and shifts those funds to protect and restore access to the White House and our national parks and monuments.”

Coburn’s amendment would have cut $8 million from the Heritage Areas fund, which he says pays for wine trains, Elvis cruises and Ukrainian Easter Egg workshops. His amendment would then provide $5 million of that $8 million cut to restart tours of the White House and make improvements to national parks, including the Flight 93 National Memorial visitors’ center.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said Coburn's amendment would not solve the White House tour problem since that funding comes from the Secret Service budget, not the national parks' budget.

"This amendment doesn’t provide a real fix in respect to national park funding," Reed said ahead of the vote. "Those tours are governed by the Secret Service budget, not national parks."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) voted against Coburn's amendment. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who caucuses with the Democrats, voted for the amendment, along with Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.).

The Senate is considering the continued spending resolution, negotiated by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and ranking member Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), that funds the government for the remainder of the fiscal year. Final passage is expected later Wednesday. The House and Senate have to agree to the bill by March 27 in order to avoid a government shutdown.

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