March 15th, 2013
07:16 PM ET
2 years ago

From tours to tuition assistance, the faces of the cuts

Washington (CNN) – They rode busses from Burlington, North Carolina, with confirmation in hand for a tour inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

But the fifth-grade students from Eastlawn Elementary only made it as far as the park outside of the White House gates.

Just before their trip to Washington, officials at the school learned their tour was canceled due to the automatic spending cuts, known as "sequestration."

"I'm ticked off," student Jakiah Sellers said. She speculated that the tour was canceled because "Obama doesn't want anybody to see his beautiful house."

The bruised feelings should come as no surprise. It was a struggle for many of the students to afford the $300 trip. Fundraisers were held. Some parents made monthly payments to cover the cost.

"That was the highlight of our trip for our students. And it's a once in a lifetime opportunity that some of us may not get again," Eastlawn Elementary teacher Stacy Stallings said.

Two weeks after the automatic spending cuts kicked in, Americans are only beginning to feel the effects of reductions that are slowly impacting countless federal programs.

A highly visible reminder of the potential for disruptions, the White House tours were canceled by administration officials who say they had to choose: either dock the pay of U.S. Secret Service agents through furloughs or scrap the visits.

"This is a very unfortunate circumstance that is a result of the sequester," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Thursday.

Peppered with questions about the shuttered tours for more than a week, White House officials have pointed to other important programs affected by the cuts, from small airports where air traffic control towers will be closed to Head Start classrooms where thousands of teachers will be laid off.

Amanda Harrison, a military wife from California, started a petition to reinstate the tuition assistance program that was abruptly ended for members of the armed services.

Harrison's husband, John, joined the Marines, in part because he was enticed by offers of financial aid dangled by recruiters.

"You don't get to maintain a good job being a service member's wife," Harrison said, wiping away tears from her eyes.

"You know, we give up a lot and this was a little something in return for everything we do," Harrison added, referring to the tuition assistance program.

During a visit to the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, President Barack Obama said he was still working with Republicans and Democrats to reverse the forced spending reductions, in part, because of their impact on scientific research.

"They don't trim the fat," the president said about the sequestered cuts. "They cut into muscle and into bone."

John Holbrook, the president of the field trip company that guided the Eastlawn Elementary students around Washington, said he worries about the impact of the cuts on his business.

Schools have already called to inquire about the canceled White House tours, an indication to Holbrook that some may decide against a visit to the capital.

Holbrook said Eastlawn's trip was hardly a total loss.

The fifth graders visited the U.S. Capitol and laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetary.

They also received a civics lesson in broken government.

"We try to spin that into an opportunity to teach them about government and federal spending and how that impacts their daily lives in more than one way," Holbrook said.

"But they're never really happy about the outcome of the civics lesson," he added.


Filed under: White House
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Getoverit

    “I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts."

    -Barack H. Obama Nov.21, 2011

    March 15, 2013 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  2. Chipster

    Republicans demanded spending cuts. But they don't like cutting the cost of WH Tours (a mere $4million per year). They don't like cutting Saturday mail delivery ($2billion/yr). They don't like cutting airshow performances by U.S. Air Force airplanes ($40million per year).....so they don't want to cut unnecessary spending or spending that allows available funds to go to senior citizens (who actually PAID for their benefits!) and poor, disabled, etc. Couldn't help but notice that the Republican Congress also has made no attempt to reduce THEIR benefits or salaries either. Hmmmmmm. This is just the beginning folks. People had better understand that cutting spending means cutting services. We should begin with the least painful first but real pain is coming our way.

    March 15, 2013 08:45 pm at 8:45 pm |
  3. jpmichigan

    Well, I guess this is one lesson they learned and will never forget. The President could have/but didn't choose other things to be cut, but to show the American people how wrong and selfish he is, he orders the closing of the PEOPLES HOUSE. Then blame it on the secret service. Forget that more money is wasted flying on air force one to more fund raising events and more campaigning, now for the Democrats re-election in 2014.

    March 15, 2013 08:56 pm at 8:56 pm |
  4. Wes

    The sequester was the uhbamas idea. And it was the uhbamas idea to close the White House–the little uhbama is having a temper tantrum; we should all get used to it.

    March 15, 2013 11:30 pm at 11:30 pm |
  5. Neon

    All of the cuts are being felt by the wage earners, the poor and the citizens below politician level. Note, that not one person in congress, senate or the executive branch has had to give up one single penny. The sequester, works. But it doesn't seem to be directed toward the top wage earners, only the middle and lower middle class workers. Yep, We've done it again. Pulled out the trusty shot gun, and blown both feet off clear to the ankles.

    March 16, 2013 12:02 am at 12:02 am |
  6. ak_steve

    Great video. It takes a fifth grader to articulate what thee GOP was hoping the genera public would do – that is – blame Obama.

    Congrats GOP – Americans with a 5th grade mentality see it your way.

    March 16, 2013 12:05 am at 12:05 am |
  7. Logic N LA

    The teachers, parent and the school are repsonsible for this. It was announced in advance fo the cancellation and its didn't take them two weeks to get here.. This is the age of communication , so even if they were on the road, they culd have been told to turn back. so stop this poor them reporting- it's nonsense

    March 16, 2013 12:48 am at 12:48 am |
  8. Malcolm H

    Obama is a thug. I voted for him in 08' but did not make the same mistake twice.

    March 16, 2013 01:10 am at 1:10 am |
  9. Bernard obryant

    Wow people or kid cant make it tour around the white house obama warn of this. And pell grant cuts sequester effect policticion and govt aka obama didnt get it act together

    March 16, 2013 03:08 am at 3:08 am |
  10. GI Joe

    The kids would probably prefer the smithsonian. It's the parents who are make a big deal out of this. Stop hiding behind kids.

    March 16, 2013 08:32 am at 8:32 am |
  11. Joe

    So we have a government that is so overbloated that a 2.5% cut from federal spending (which increased 80% since 2007) is crippling critical services? If that's the case, there will never be any cuts (much less the 80% that is needed). It's clear the beaurocrats (no doubt at the behest of some politicians) are cutting services in the most visible way so people will pressure congress into giving them their money back. It's like the blue-flu – drag your feet and pout until you get your toys back.

    March 16, 2013 10:28 am at 10:28 am |