The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a budget bill that could avoid a second government shutdown in mid-January, a development that will likely offer some relief to federal employees and government contractors in Oak Ridge—and to the businesses that support them.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, a Tennessee Republican, said he supported the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 in the House on Thursday.
“Tonight, the House took a modest step toward reforming spending and setting our government on a more stable path,” said Fleischmann, a second-term congressman whose district includes Oak Ridge.
But the bill still has to pass the deeply divided Senate, which is preparing to take up the budget bill this week. The Washington Post reported that Democrats are still trying to come up with the 60 votes necessary to break a GOP-led filibuster in the Senate.
CNN said the bill also would relax the sweeping forced spending cuts known as sequestration that national laboratory officials said could be harmful to scientific research. There has been strong opposition from Republicans to the bipartisan budget compromise, but supporters are within striking distance of rounding up the votes they need to pass it in the Senate this week, CNN said.
The bill would avoid a second shutdown, like the short partial shutdown in October. But there is a second possible fiscal fight looming in Congress over the debt limit in February.
Fleischmann said the House budget bill passed on Thursday maintains the sequester savings while also reforming the mandatory spending that is driving the national debt. He said the legislation has a $23 billion net deficit reduction and ensures the government will not shut down in 2014.
“While this bill is not perfect, it is a step in the right direction,” Fleischmann said. “For the first time since I have been in Congress, we will finally return to a regular appropriations process, an important step to ending the cycle of governing from crisis to crisis. I hope the Senate will quickly pass this bill so we can continue moving toward the real spending reform our nation so desperately needs.”
The last-minute agreement in October avoided furloughs for up to about 3,600 workers at the Y-12 National Security Complex. The nuclear weapons plant had started an orderly shutdown two weeks earlier, on Monday, Oct. 7.
Officials at Oak Ridge National Laboratory had also started preparing for a possible temporary shutdown and unpaid furloughs in case the shutdown, which began Oct. 1 and ended Oct. 17, continued.
In mid-October, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board reported on the measures that Y-12 was taking to wind down to a safe and secure minimum staffing condition. Design activities for the multi-billion-dollar Uranium Processing Facility project would “continue in full,” the DNFSB said. But nearly all Building 9212 process systems would be placed in “warm standby” modes, hydrogen fluoride process lines and equipment would be purged in the Oxide Conversion Facility, uranium chips would be collected in “chip dollies” in Building 9215, all special nuclear material would be placed in a safe and secure storage condition, glove boxes in Building 9204-2E would be “de-inventoried” of hazardous material, and dry room materials would be put into protective containers because the humidity and oxygen levels in those areas would not be maintained, the safety board said.