By Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON, March 13 President Barack Obama on
Wednesday blamed the decision to halt the popular White House
tours on mandatory cutbacks to the Secret Service budget and
said he was looking for ways to allow groups such as students to
"I have to say this was not a decision that went up to the
White House. What the Secret Service explained to us was that
they're going to have to furlough some folks," Obama told ABC
News in explaining why the tours were canceled after $85 billion
in automatic spending cuts known as "sequestration" kicked in.
Trips to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, many of them organized by
members of Congress, are especially popular in the spring.
That's when school groups and other tourists descend upon the
capital to visit monuments and Washington buildings and attend
the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival.
Some students have pleaded to be allowed to come, making
their case in videos posted online and on social networking
Republican lawmakers accuse the White House of canceling the
tours as a way to drum up voter anger and increase pressure on
them to agree to Obama's demand for higher taxes on the wealthy
as part of a deficit-reduction deal.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the White House
decided to suspend the tours after the Secret Service said it
could not provide necessary protection during the tours.
Uniformed Secret Service guards screen everyone who enters the
"The fact of the matter is that the White House runs the
tours," Carney said. "The tours are of the White House. The
Secret Service staffs the tours."
The move saves the government about $74,000 a week.
Obama said he was looking at ways to allow some people in
the White House.
"What I'm asking ... 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?" the president said.
Obama said the cancellations were an unfortunate result of
the automatic budget cuts, which took effect at the start of
this month after he and Congress and failed to agree on 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.