The Senate approved Wednesday its version of a spending bill for the rest of fiscal 2013.
Like a House counterpart, the bill would lock in $85 billion in across-the-board budget cuts this year and extend a freeze on federal pay scales for a third year through the end of December.
The measure received considerable bipartisan support — with a 73-26 vote — Wednesday, lessening the risk that it will get bogged down in a partisan divide and risking a partial government shutdown when a continuing resolution expires March 27.
The House and Senate versions must now be reconciled. Lawmakers could send a final measure to President Obama as early as Thursday.
Both versions would give the Defense Department more flexibility to manage across-the-board sequestration cuts by shifting $10.4 billion into its operations and maintenance account. Both versions also would sustain staffing levels of more than 40,000 Customs and Border Protection agents.
But the Senate measure includes $221 million more than the House bill for National Science Foundation research grants, according to a Senate Appropriations Committee news release. It also reallocates funding in an effort to avoid furloughs for U.S. Agriculture Department meat and poultry plant inspectors.
The continued pay freeze has draw intense criticism from federal employee organizations. By extending it for a third year, Congress continues to use “federal employees to fix a problem they didn’t create,” Joseph Beaudoin, president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, said in a Wednesday news release.
With many federal employees facing unpaid furloughs because of the across-the-board cuts, Beaudoin added, lawmakers seem “unable and unwilling to come up with anything more than the same short-sighted ploys that have dangerous real-world consequences for federal workers and the services on which Americans depend.”