The sequester cuts began to hit home for members Tuesday, as House leaders announced budget cutbacks around the Capitol complex and the White House said it would cancel tours starting this weekend.
Stopping White House tours particularly affects lawmakers because constituents go through their members to arrange them and it’s up to congressional offices, not the White House, to call constituents to inform them of the cancellation.
“Basically it creates a constituent relations nightmare,” said one House staffer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity and is not authorized to speak with the press.
“It’s incumbent on the members’ offices, not the White House, to call them and tell them one by one,” the aide added. “It’s probably like if you’re a high-end car dealer and you have a recall on your cars and you have to call all these people who paid 80 grand for their sports car and tell them there’s a fatal flaw.”
Congressional offices made similar calls last year, when an expiring continuing resolution had the White House threatening to stop tours, although it did not act on that threat at the time.
Come Saturday, staffers answering telephones around Capitol Hill will be fielding calls from frustrated constituents who endured lengthy background checks, booked tickets months in advance and, in some cases, planned their visit to Washington, D.C., solely around a trip to the White House.
That had some members wondering whether President Barack Obama’s administration was playing hardball with the tour cancellation.
Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said he suspects the White House is engaging in an age-old political trick called the Washington Monument strategy — threatening to shut down popular services, such as the monument, unless budget cuts are reversed.
“It’s the old, ‘If you don’t [approve] this bond levy for the school district, we’re going to eliminate football,’” Simpson said. “I understand the strategy of the administration: They’re trying to make it as ugly as possible to put as much pressure as possible on Republicans to change their position. It’s just not going to happen.”
Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., issued a press release asking whether the White House would still allow celebrities, such as Jay-Z, Beyonce, Katy Perry and Swizz Beatz, to visit the building in exchange for donations.
“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,” Graves said. “As the White House doors are slammed in the face of average Americans, I want to know if they will still swing wide open for Hollywood and the liberal elite.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.