White House cancels tours, citing sequester
By Shawna Thomas and Kristen Welker, NBC News
The White House is canceling tours of the president's famous abode starting next week, saying the budget cuts that went into effect last week are to blame.
A phone recording on the call line for White House visitors informs callers that White House tours will be canceled, starting this weekend.
"Due to staffing reductions resulting from sequestration, we regret to inform you that White House tours will be canceled effective Saturday March 9th, 2013 until further notice," the recording says. "Unfortunately, we will not be able to reschedule affected tours. We very much regret having to take this action particularly during the popular spring touring season."
The reason for the cancellations, an official with the Secret Service told NBC News, is because the Uniformed Division Officers normally tasked with securing the tours will be reassigned to other security posts at the White House. The move will reduce overtime costs and may reduce the number of furloughs the Secret Service could potentially face, according to the official.
It is unclear how many Uniform Division Officers will be impacted by the sequester. The Office of Management and Budget calculated that the Secret Service may need to cut as much as $84 million from its budget due to the cuts.
Though the White House made the ultimate decision to suspend tours, their conclusion was based on staffing decisions the Secret Service has been forced to make, according to a White House official.
The move, which Republicans paint as a publicity stunt, prompted at least one proposed legislative fix from a GOP congressman Tuesday.
In an amendment to a GOP stopgap budget bill headed to the floor later this week, Rep. Louis Gohmert, R-Texas, suggested that no funds from the bill be used "to transport the President to or from a golf course until public tours of the White House resume."
House Administration Committee Chair Candice Miller, R-Mich., said in a statement that the canceled tours are "wrong" and invited tourists to Washington D.C. to tour the Capitol instead.
"I believe closing the doors of the White House to the American people is wrong," she wrote. "I want to let those Americans planning a trip to Washington, D.C. know that the Capitol will remain open and encourage those wishing to visit to contact their member of Congress or the Capitol Visitors Center to schedule a tour."
As required by law, President Barack Obama ordered the automatic cuts into effect last Friday night. The broad budget reductions came after Congress and the administration failed to reach an agreement to avert the sequester.