White House tours may resume for students, Obama says
This post was updated at 2:46 p.m. ET
President Obama has asked the Secret Service to review the decision to cancel White House tours, he said during an interview with ABC News.
Last week, the Secret Service cancelled all White House tours without consulting the White House, saying the move could save an estimated $2 million between now and September. The cuts were forced by the sequester - a set of automatic spending cuts that began on March 1 and have slashed services and forced cutbacks at a variety of federal agencies, including the White House.
Now, though, the president has pressed the agency to see whether there are ways "to accommodate school groups who have traveled here with some bake sales."
"Can we make sure that kids, potentially, can still come to tour?" he asked.
Critics have scorned the decision to cancel tours - House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, pointedly told reporters last week that the U.S. Capitol remains open for visitors despite cutbacks - but Mr. Obama has defended the move, saying it was not a decision made by the White House but calling it a necessary consequence of lawmakers failing to reach an alternative agreement on the budget.
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"I have to say, this was not a decision that went up to the White House," Mr. Obama said. "But what the Secret Service explained to us was that they're going to have to furlough some folks."
White House press secretary Jay Carney clarified at today's briefing that, while the Secret Service made the decision to no longer staff the tours, it was ultimately the White House's decision to cancel the tours in the absence of Secret Service protection. "The Secret Service came to us with a decision that, because of the sequester cuts, it wouldbe, in their view, impossible to staff those tours, that they would have to withdraw staff from those tours, in order to avoid more furloughs and overtime pay cuts," he explained. "It was our job, then, to cancel the tours. The Secret Service cannot, because...those are White House tours."
The president defended the decision to cancel the tours, saying the cutback forced by Congress's inability to reach an agreement on deficit reduction. "I'm always amused when people on the one hand say the sequester doesn't mean anything and the administration's exaggerating its effects. And then whatever the specific effects are, they yell and scream and say, 'Why are you doing that?'," Mr. Obama told ABC News. "Well, there are consequences to Congress not having come up with a more sensible way to reduce the deficit."
The administration has pushed Congress to replace the sequester with a more targeted package of spending cuts and new revenue from closed tax loopholes, but no agreement has yet emerged.
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