News Column

Obama's Travel Draws Scrutiny Amid Sequester

May 31, 2013
Obama

As federal workers brace for unpaid furlough days because of the sequester, U.S. President Obama's travel and its costs have drawn more scrutiny, observers say.

This summer's trips for Obama and his family come as federal employees are tightening their belts because of the automatic, across-the-board budget cuts that went into effect in March.

Last Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Office of Management and Budget were closed as employees took the first of several unpaid days off, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

"The president is asking the people to sacrifice but never himself," U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said this month when he introduced a resolution asking Obama to skip vacations so White House tours could resume.

"We don't have a problem with him taking vacations but it seems petty to close the White House to tours when forgoing one or two out-of-town vacations would easily pay for the cost of keeping it open."

Other effects of the sequester: the Blue Angels didn't fly at the Naval Academy commencement, Head Start programs have been turning away children and college students found summer jobs tending grounds at Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland were cut.

While Obama announced in April he would cut his salary $20,000, his official and political trips still are fodder for second-guessing and criticism, the Times said.

White House officials said the public understands being president costs money and dismiss complaints as predictable grousing from the party out of power whose leaders also enjoy perks, such as congressional trips overseas.

"Many Republicans in Washington criticize the president because the sun comes up in the morning," Obama senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer told the Times "So if that was our litmus test, we couldn't get out of bed in the morning."

"It's just a routine part of the Washington gotcha game," said Joe Hagin, who worked for three Republican presidents, most recently as President George W. Bush's deputy chief of staff.

"Democrats played it against President Bush and Republicans are returning the favor. It's been going on for a long time."


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