By Meghashyam Mali - 03/13/13 11:28 AM EDT
President Obama said his administration was looking at ways to resume White House tours for school groups.
“This was not a decision that went up to the White House,” noted Obama in an ABC News interview aired on Wednesday, saying the directive came from the Secret Service.
The president said that the Secret Service had faced a difficult decision over whether to suspend the tours after sequester cuts took effect.
“What the Secret Service explained to us was that they were going to furlough some folks,” said Obama. “What furloughs mean is people are going to lose a day of work and a day of pay, and the question for them is how deeply do they have to furlough their staff and is it worth it to make sure that we got White House tours if it means you have a whole bunch of families who are depending on a paycheck who are suddenly seeing a 5 or 10 percent reduction in their pay?”
The decision to shut down the White House tours has drawn criticism from GOP lawmakers who said it was a political maneuver to rally public support for Obama’s stance in the debate over the $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts that hit the federal government earlier this month. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the Capitol would remain open for tours despite cuts, and has made a point of meeting with visiting groups.
Critics have said that the cost from assigning Secret Service protection for the tours was minimal compared to other parts of the White House budget.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the decision to suspend tours was “very unfortunate,” but laid the blame on Congress for failing to reach an accord to prevent the automatic spending cuts.
"We're disappointed by that kind of decision, but it would have been far better in our view if Congress had taken action to delay the sequester," Carney said last week.
Many conservative commentators as well as real estate mogul Donald Trump have offered to help pay for resuming the tours, but the White House has turned down the request, saying that it could not allow private individuals to pay the Secret Service.