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Canceled White House tours, not projected job losses, cause uproar

White House photo

The White House announced yesterday that is canceling public tours, citing budget cuts and the fact that sequestration will slash as much as $84 million from the Secret Service budget.

A phone recording on the call line for White House visitors informs callers that White House tours will be canceled, starting this weekend.

"Due to staffing reductions resulting from sequestration, we regret to inform you that White House tours will be canceled effective Saturday March 9th, 2013 until further notice," the recording says. "Unfortunately, we will not be able to reschedule affected tours. We very much regret having to take this action particularly during the popular spring touring season."

The reason for the cancellations, an official with the Secret Service told NBC News, is because the Uniformed Division Officers normally tasked with securing the tours will be reassigned to other security posts at the White House. The move will reduce overtime costs and may reduce the number of furloughs the Secret Service could potentially face, according to the official.

Generally speaking, this is hardly scandalous. The news will no doubt disappoint some tourists, and there's arguably a symbolic significance, but when evaluating the sequester's effects, this seems fairly minor. Indeed, if scrapping tours helps prevent Secret Service furloughs, it's a no-brainer.

It's why it came as something of a surprise when congressional Republicans reacted furiously to the news. The Huffington Postpublished a sampling of angry responses from GOP lawmakers, and Roll Callnoted several more. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the chair of the House Republican Conference, said, "[I]nstead of making responsible spending cuts, the president has now denied American people access to the White House."

That President Obama has already cut spending -- and proposed even more spending cuts as part of a bipartisan compromise -- is a policy detail that McMorris Rodgers chooses not to understand.

But even putting that aside, I'm struck by what sequestration-related news congressional Republicans find outrageous -- and what sequestration-related news leaves the GOP feeling indifferent.

Jason Linkin's take rings true.

The pain of cancelling the White House tours is going to felt by a statistically negligible portion of the population, who will simply have to make do with any of the many thousands of other things to do in Washington in the meantime. On the other hand, the real pain of the sequestration is more likely going to come in the form of the 750,000 jobs that the Congressional Budget Office projects will be lost by year's end, if no deal is made. (And there are offers on the table!)

Quite right. The Congressional Budget Office tells lawmakers sequestration would cost the U.S. economy 750,000 jobs, and it doesn't stop Republicans from calling the sequester a "victory." Congress is told the policy will hurt military readiness, and most of the GOP shrugs its shoulders. Republicans are told the sequester will hurt low income families who rely on WIC and Head Start, and GOP officials look the other way.

But told that President Obama is halting White House tours, Republican lawmakers respond, "He did what?"

The congressional GOP may want to revisit its list of priorities.