WASHINGTON -- Congressional Republicans have upped their campaign to pressure the White House to reopen its doors to tour-goers after shutting them in response to sequestration.
Two senators are pushing measures to restart the White House tours as amendments to a "continuing resolution" bill to keep the government funded past March 27. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is reported to have his amendment in the works. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) rolled out a separate amendment on Wednesday night, calling for the transfer of $2.5 million from the Transportation Security Administration to the U.S. Secret Service to pay for the security staff on the tours.
“We can and must be smarter with our spending decisions and make cuts in ways that do not intentionally and unnecessarily inflict hardship and aggravation upon the American people,” Moran said in a statement. “Cancelling White House tours is an unnecessary and unfair way for the Department of Homeland Security to meet its budget-cutting obligations.”
The legislative actions follow days of howling from Republicans over the tours' cancellation. This week, GOP Sens. John Thune (S.D.), John Barrasso (Wyo.), Roy Blunt (Mo.), John Boozman (Ark.), Dan Coats (Ind.), Susan Collins (Maine), John Cornyn (Texas), Deb Fischer (Neb.), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Orrin Hatch (Utah), John Hoeven (N.D.), Pat Roberts (Kan.), Tim Scott (S.C.) and Moran all sent a letter to the president questioning the decision.
The conservative media has hyped the dismay, with other mainstream press not far behind. The topic came up several times during the opening day of the Conservative Political Action Conference. And among House Republicans, the criticism has been unrelenting.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) called the decision silly. Those in his House ranks have followed suit. During President Barack Obama's meeting with House GOPers on Wednesday, Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), chairwoman of the House Administration Committee, asked why Obama "put an end to the tours instead of just cancelling the congressional Christmas party or the congressional picnic," according to The Hill.
Putting aside whether the administration closed the White House to the general public out of political vindictiveness, or whether the closure was just a sad consequence of sequestration, the attention it is getting is beyond obsessive. There are, after all, dozens of examples of the sequester taking a serious toll on communities already being reported throughout the country. Here are just a few:
More than 400 civilian contractors are going to be laid of at Tobyhanna Army Depot in Pennsylvania because of sequestration and the end of the Iraq War.
An audit agency that helped save the government $4.2 billion last year will be weakened by the sequester.
An Iowa school board is considering firing 17 teachers because of sequestration and budget woes.
Roughly 1,000 military technicians in Indiana are going to lose a day of pay every week for the next five months because of the sequester.
Programs providing aid and meals for the elderly in Georgia are being cut by $350,000 because of sequestration.
In Ohio, 150 NASA jobs are on the chopping block, with 10 to 15 already gone as a result of the sequester.
The U.S. Forest Service will have 500 fewer firefighters because of sequestration and budget cuts, just as the summer nears.
A U.S. Geological Survey science camp was ended because of sequestration.
A hospital in Kentucky laid off 28 people because of sequestration and budget cuts.
These problems are occurring even in the home states of the very lawmakers who are choosing to loudly complain about White House tours. In Moran's Kansas, for example, the combination of sequestration and federal government contacting decisions has endangered 1,400 jobs at Beechcraft Corp. Estimates suggest that at least $79 million in funding for the state's military bases are at risk as well.
"While Sen. Moran would have liked to avoid all of the harms of indiscriminate sequestration cuts, he is working to blunt the effects of sequestration in a variety of areas," Moran spokesperson Garrette Silverman told The Huffington Post. "He's introduced several amendments to the CR including one to keep air traffic control towers open, one to reinstate the Tuition Assistance program for service members, and one to re-open the White House to Americans. All of his amendments directly impact Kansans who face the closure of 7 control towers in rural areas, are concerned over whether they'll now receive the college education they deserve, and are having their long-planned tours of the White House cancelled."
Meanwhile, in Miller's Michigan, sequestration is also taking its toll. The suspension of the military’s tuition assistance program will reportedly affect 4,000 Central Michigan University students. The control tower at Detroit's Coleman A. Young International Airport is set to close, while nearly 100 military and defense employees in Crawford County are likely to be furloughed.
But perhaps the most ironic twist is that lawyers fighting public corruption are now facing cutbacks.
As the Detroit Free Press reported, the sequester is hitting the legal team that just secured a conviction against former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick:
All 257 employees in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Detroit received furlough notices at the tail end of the Kilpatrick trial, warning of possible unpaid days off in the event of a sequestration. Many had to sign off on furlough deals while the Kilpatrick jury was deliberating, agreeing to take one day off over two weeks with no pay.