As a constituent service, my office is pleased to help you obtain a tours of prominent government buildings in Washington, D.C., such as the White House. Unfortunately, White House tour staff have informed me that the President has decided to close the White House to the general public, citing budget cuts as the reason. Rather than informing you directly of his decision to cancel your tour, the President has left that task to me.
I believe it should be a priority for our government to remain as open and accessible as safely possible so all citizens can exercise their constitutional rights and actively participate in our federal system. Plus, for our younger citizens, visiting the buildings and institutions in our Nation’s capitol helps them see for themselves that this is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. The imagination of many future mayors, congressmen, and justices are sparked on family road trips and grade school visits to Washington, D.C.
The budget cuts cited by the President originated with a budget procedure known as a sequester. Because the federal government spends more than it receives in revenue, a mechanism was enacted to institute an across-the-board cut if certain responsible financial benchmarks were not met. These benchmarks were not met and a 2.4% across-the-board cut went into effect on March 1, 2013. My own Congressional office budget was cut by 8.2% (preceded by an additional 11.5% cut over the last 2 years).
When budget funds are limited, American families and now the federal government must make tough choices and, in some cases, re-evaluate our spending priorities. All federal agencies, including the White House, have discretion on how they implement these budget cuts. I made it a priority not to limit constituent service with our reduced office funds and instituted other internal changes instead to account for the cut. Furthermore, Speaker of the House John Boehner announced that the U.S. Capitol will remain open to the people for tours and public business.
I am saddened that the President made a different choice – one that regrettably will impact your school trip or family vacation. According to media reports, the President will only be saving $18,000 per week by cancelling public, self-guided tours of the White House. By contrast, a U.S. Senator cited the President’s recent weekend getaway aboard Air Force One to play golf with Tiger Woods at a yacht club as costing the taxpayers over a million dollars or the equivalent of funding White House tour expenses through March 2014.
While we need to work together to bring runaway federal spending under control, closing the White House or the Capitol buildings to the public should never be the first option. I am hopeful that the President will reverse course and re-open the White House to the American people, even if it means him taking one less vacation. Should you wish to register an opinion with the White House regarding this decision, you can reach the White House switchboard at (202) 456-1111. If we receive different information from the White House regarding public access, we will notify you immediately.
Please allow me to reiterate that the U.S. Capitol remains open for tours and public business. If you currently have a Capitol tour request pending, please contact me back by email, so I can re-request this tour.
It is an honor to serve you in Congress.