By Justin Sink - 03/07/13 06:37 PM EST
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday it was "very unfortunate" that White House tours would be canceled as a result of the sequester.
"It is extremely unfortunate we have a situation like the sequester that compels these types of trade-offs," Carney said.
On Tuesday, the Obama administration announced it was canceling tours of the White House indefinitely due to "staffing reductions resulting from sequestration."
Carney's comment came in response to a question about a group of sixth graders from a school in Iowa whose planned White House tour in May was canceled this week. The students are appealing via Facebook for a reprieve.
The cancellation of White House tours was seen as a swipe at Congress after lawmakers were unable to negotiate a sequester offset before the $85 billion in across-the-board cuts were implemented last week.
White House tours are customarily scheduled through congressional offices, and Capitol Hill staffers were tasked with informing tourists to the nation's capital that their tours had been cancelled.
The move drew immediate criticism from Republicans on Capitol Hill. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the U.S. Capitol would remain open for tours, and made a point of meeting with tour groups visiting the complex earlier this week.
“Rather than do his job and agree to take responsible measures to get our government’s finances in order, President Obama continues playing on the emotions and fears of the American people," Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.) said in a statement. "Canceling all self-guided White House tours is the latest shameless political stunt by the president, who is twisting basic government efficiency into an extreme consequence."
Critics have also argued that the cost to keep tours open is minimal relative to other parts of the White House budget.
On Thursday, NBC News reported that the canceled tours saved the White House $74,000 per week. Staffing tours involves the employment of 37 Secret Service officers who work eight-hour shifts five days a week, and is expected to save as much as $2 million through the remainder of the fiscal year.
But Republicans note that figure pales compared to the expenses involved in flights and security for the Obama family's vacations. An aide to Boehner cheekily noted Thursday a report that President Obama was likely headed back to Martha's Vineyard for a summer vacation this year, the implication being that the White House should prioritize opening the executive mansion to visitors.