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New York Times - White House Tours Halted Over Cuts; Congress Says, "We're Open'

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By Ashley Parker

The Obama administration told members of Congress on Tuesday that it was canceling all White House tours beginning on Saturday because of the $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts that went into effect last week.

Constituents who want to visit the White House must go through their representatives to schedule a tour, so Congressional offices will be forced to turn away visitors hoping for a tour and contact others to cancel scheduled tours.

Lawmakers are being forced to trim their budgets, too. On Monday, Representative Candice Miller, Republican of Michigan and chairwoman of the House Administration Committee, told members that their 2013 office budget authorizations were being reduced by 8.2 percent.

"Although sequestration isn't the ideal way to reduce government spending," Ms. Miller said in a statement, "it is now the law, and Congress is not, and should not be, immune."

Lawmakers, however, will have the discretion to choose how to absorb the cuts.

In its own advisory, the White House made it clear that it understood that its move would inconvenience tourists and could cause a headache for lawmakers. "We very much regret having to take this action, particularly during the popular spring touring season," the e-mail said.

A spokesman for the U.S. Secret Service said that officers who would be assigned tpo the tours would be reassigned to other posts at the White House. "This staffing measure will reduce overtime costs overall and may ultimately reduce the number of potential furloughs necessary by our agency," said Max Milien, the spokesman.

Many members of Congress took to Twitter to voice their displeasure, although some also tried to offer a positive spin, suggesting that visitors should instead visit the Capitol.

"White House cancels tours over sequestration; House admin welcomes Americans visiting D.C. to tour Capitol instead," read a Twitter message by the House Administration Committee.

Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Republican of Washington and chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, similarly welcomed tourists to visit the Capitol, and accused President Obamaof playing politics with the budget cuts.

"It's unfortunate the president has chosen to implement his sequester by canceling White House tours instead of urging Senate Democrats to cut wasteful spending," she said in a statement. "We welcome the opportunity to provide a free tour of the U.S. Capitol to anyone visiting Washington who will now be unable to visit the White House because of the president's decision. Spending is the problem. And instead of making responsible spending cuts, the president has now denied American people access to the White House."

Representative James Lankford, Republican of Oklahoma, said he was "a little surprised" that the White House had shut down tours, calling the decision "a dramatic overreaction."

"The White House always tries to make things as public and harsh as they can, rather than saying they're going to try to reduce spending and make responsible decisions," he said. "They are trying to reduce access and trying to make it look bad."

Many Democrats, however, said the White House was simply making tough choices to handle the budget cuts that Congress did not stop. "The White House is doing what it has to do," said Representative Steve Israel, Democrat of New York and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Mr. Israel said his office was drafting e-mails to constituents whose tours were canceled, as well as to those who had made requests for tours. "House Republicans are hurting everyday Americans," he said, "including those who simply want to tour the White House."

Representative Louie Gohmert, Republican of Texas, is trying to introduce an amendment to a stopgap measure to finance the government through the rest of the fiscal year that would prevent Mr. Obama from using federal money to transport himself to and from golf outings until the White House resumed its tours.


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