Republicans are having a great time ridiculing the Obama administration for canceling White House tours as $85 billion in automatic federal spending cuts take hold. They’ve got questions for the White House: Why not instead cancel golf, or calligraphy, or the president’s upcoming vacation? They've also got advice for disgruntled tourists: Come on over to the Capitol for a tour, we’ll show you a good time.
Fact-checkers, meanwhile, have been in overdrive debunking many of the dire claims President Obama and his allies have made about the impact of the across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester. The White House, which says it’s trying to save on Secret Service costs by canceling the tours, is losing the current round of public-relations competition.
But Republicans should be as worried as the White House about what’s on its way. Job losses and furloughs at some point will hit every town and county they represent, followed by more job losses due to decreasing demand for goods and services. Eventually the cuts will start showing up in a higher national unemployment rate and a lower gross domestic product. And then the real public-relations contest begins. Not the one about canceled White House tours; the one about who owns this mess — the president, the GOP, or both.
It would all be quite amusing, except that it’s dead serious. Just ask Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, who visited the Federal Aviation Administration on Friday to plead against closure of the air traffic control tower at an airport his Arizona city operates. Each of the approximately 200 small regional airports on the potential cut list is, no doubt, above average to its patrons. The one right outside Phoenix has “unique foreign policy implications” because it is used by NATO for military training exercises, Stanton says.
If the feds don’t relent, the only way to keep controllers on the job would be for someone else to pick up the $600,000 tab. If it’s Phoenix, that means $600,000 in cuts somewhere else in the city budget. “People are going to feel this,” Stanton says of the sequester. “The impact won’t be immediate, but it’s going to be there.”
Local media across the country are beginning to publicize the impact of spending cuts on parks, schools, airports, food banks, seniors meal plans, student aid, domestic-violence programs, Coast Guard patrols, defense contractors, and the military. Pentagon cancellations range from ship deployments to a performance by the Navy Sea Chanters Chorus at a high school in Topeka, Kan.
There is a lot of talk around Washington about how to amend or replace the sequester to avoid some of the pain and economic damage of its meat-ax approach. The possibilities range from allowing Obama or Cabinet secretaries — or at least the Defense secretary — some flexibility in making the cuts to a full-fledged grand-ish bargain replacing the sequester with cuts, tax reform and entitlement trims. But all that's a lot more complicated than the sad tale of sixth-graders in Waverly, Iowa, who were told their White House tour was canceled. Their disappointment was irresistible to the media and to 14 GOP senators who wrote to the White House to protest the cancellations. The president should suspend “his own wasteful golf outings” rather than the tours, said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.
Rush Limbaugh summed up the current state of play in his inimitable way, juxtaposing the tour cancellations with Obama’s budget-focused dinner the other night with a dozen Republican senators. “We're shutting down White House tours while Obama takes a 20-vehicle caravan one-half a mile? By the way, that's how far the trip was from the White House to dinner with the Republican ruling-class guys last night: Half a mile!” Limbaugh said. He added: “They wanted people sad and let down, and they wanted people blaming the Republicans for it. And it's backfiring, not working.”
True, but the barely suppressed GOP glee at the White House fumbles, and the cavalier acceptance of the sequester by some Republicans, is also bound to backfire. The White House may have been overly dramatic in some of its sequester rhetoric, Stanton says, but “you owe it to the American people to explain what will happen.” He predicts that over time the prevailing sentiment among Americans will be “now we understand what the administration was talking about.” At that point, White House tours will be the last thing on their minds.