News / USA

Obama Seeking Way to Let Students Still Tour White House

In this March 4, 2013, photo, The White House is seen through a chain-link fence where the inaugural reviewing stand once stood in Washington.
In this March 4, 2013, photo, The White House is seen through a chain-link fence where the inaugural reviewing stand once stood in Washington.
Reuters
— President Barack Obama is looking for ways to restart popular tours of the White House to allow certain groups such as students to visit.

"What I'm asking them is are there ways, for example, for us to accommodate school groups, you know, who may have traveled here with some bake sales. Can we make sure that kids... can still come to tour?'' Obama told ABC News in an interview on Tuesday and aired on Wednesday.

The White House earlier said it had to suspend the tours this month in the wake of mandated across-the-board spending cuts known as ``sequestration.'' The move saves the government about $74,000 a week.

Trips to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are particularly popular in the spring as waves of school groups and other tourists descend upon the nation's capital to visit monuments and other  Washington buildings and attend the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival.

Republicans decried the cancellations as a way for the administration to spin the cuts to push Obama's position in the budget debate. Some students have pleaded to be allowed to come, making their case in videos posted on-line and on social networking websites.

But Obama said the cancellations were an unfortunate result of the automatic budget cuts, which took effect early this month after Congress and he failed to agree on alternative ways to stem rising deficits.

"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 doin' that?''' Obama told ABC.

The White House earlier said the Secret Service, which handles presidential security and is involved in the tours, offered various options to deal with sequester-related cuts ranging from canceling tours to furloughs and cuts in overtime.

Obama told ABC the decision was up to the agency, not the White House, and furloughs would have meant up to 10 percent pay cuts for staffers losing days of work and pay.

He said the tours also underscore the need for lawmakers to come up with a more sensible budget rather than across-the-board cuts that chop "arbitrary stuff.''

"There are consequences to Congress not having come up with a more sensible way to reduce the deficit,'' he said.

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