As the cherry blossom trees get ready to bloom, thousands of American families will descend on Washington for an educational spring break. But for Pinellas County resident Melissa LaPointe and about 30 other Tampa Bay families who had scheduled a tour of the White House, they've already received a cruel lesson in petty political posturing.
The Obama administration announced tours of the presidential residence have been suspended, disingenuously blaming the decision on the budget sequester in order to save about $75,000 a week. But that is being penny-wise and politically pound foolish. The White House is the people's house — it's Melissa LaPointe's house — and the public has a right to be able to experience its historical grandeur. The Obama administration should reverse its shameful "no visitors wanted" attitude toward its landlord — the American taxpayer.
As government agencies prepare for layoffs and the furlough of federal employees, the Obama administration announced it would suspend tours of the White House to eliminate the cost of 37 Secret Service officers assigned to provide tour security. That means LaPointe, 58, a second grade teacher at Bay Vista Fundamental Elementary School in St. Petersburg, 11 other constituents of U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores, and 18 constituents of Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, who had been approved to take White House tours over the next two weeks will be forced to change their plans.
For LaPointe, the tour she scheduled to coincide with a visit to family in the area was to have been the highlight of her trip. "I don't understand all the politics, but I don't think that this is the way to make a statement," she said when contacted by the Tampa Bay Times editorial board. "It's not his (Obama's) house. It's just unfair."
Slamming the door on the estimated 1.5 million visitors to the White House in order to save nearly $4 million in Secret Service security costs annually will hardly make a dent in the $85.4 billion in budget cuts mandated by the sequester agreement that Republicans and Democrats agreed to. And there are myriad other ways for the Obama administration to underscore the draconian effects of the sequester cuts without using tourists as pawns in a bitter partisan spat. The president should be willing to shut down the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland, which costs the taxpayers an estimated $8.9 million a year to maintain — more than double the White House Secret Service tour security costs.
If Melissa LaPointe's holiday is to be disrupted, why shouldn't a president's weekend getaway be equally inconvenienced?