Should President Obama give up golf during 'sequester'?

The (failed) GOP bid to strip funds for presidential golf trips was just one move in an escalating struggle over Obama's 'sequester' strategy, such as axing popular White House tours.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
The White House is seen through a chain-link fence where the inaugural reviewing stand once stood in Washington. The Obama administration is canceling tours of the White House beginning March 9, citing staffing reductions prompted by automatic budget cuts that began to take effect last Friday.
Wilfredo Lee/AP/File
An aide takes several golf bags up the stairs of Air Force One as President Obama prepared to depart from Palm Beach International Airport on Feb 18. The president spent the long Presidents Day weekend playing golf.

Should President Obama give up golf for the duration of the "sequester"? That’s what some irritated conservative GOP lawmakers believe. They’re not mad at presidential sports per se as much as annoyed at what they consider to be Mr. Obama’s grandstanding on spending cuts mandated by sequestration. In particular, they’re peeved that the administration, with blaring trumpets, has announced that public tours of the White House have been cancelled pending further notice.

So on Tuesday, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R) of Texas offered an amendment to the omnibus spending bill that the House is currently considering. None of the money authorized by this continuing resolution “may be used to transport the President to or from a golf course until public tours of the White House resume,” read Representative Gohmert’s amendment.

In a Tuesday floor speech, Gohmert said he hoped this prodding would make the White House rethink tour cancellations. The Texas lawmaker noted that spring break is coming up and tourists of all political persuasions have already made plans for tours of D.C.

“They’ll get their tour of the White House, and all it will cost is one or two golf trips less,” said Gohmert.

Nope. This isn’t happening. House Republican leaders ruled the amendment not relevant to the spending bill, and blocked it from getting a vote on the chamber floor.

But we think Gohmert’s effort was nevertheless indicative. For one thing, it shows that the conservative wing of the GOP remains unhappy with their leadership’s approach to the sequester standoff.

They want more confrontation with the White House, not less. In particular, they want to use the continuing resolution as a club to try to force through even deeper spending reductions, such as cutting money for implementation of some aspects of the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare."

Influential conservative pundit Erick Erickson makes this point Wednesday at RedState. He bemoaned the demise of Gohmert’s amendment and urged GOP conservatives to vote against allowing the continuing resolution to proceed, in the name of trying to force deeper cuts.

“Conservative groups must set a new standard,” Mr. Erickson writes, but he holds out little hope they’ll actually block the bill.

For another thing, the golf-versus-building-tour dust-up shows how the White House has shifted from making big claims about the sequester’s alleged dire effects to implementing small, yet pointed reductions.

ABC’s Rick Klein makes this point Wednesday in the morning political newsletter The Note.

“Inside week one of the sequester, we went from workplace deaths and forest fires and airport chaos to ... no more White House self-guided tours? The Obama administration has gone from very big to very small in sequester messaging, brushed back by the fact some early claims turned out to be less than truthful, and that, well, big things aren’t happening yet,” Mr. Klein writes.

The fact is White House tours are popular with voters. Both Republican and Democratic House members are more than happy to procure tour tickets for traveling constituents. But because of security concerns and sheer popularity, this has to be done well in advance – so tourists with spring break tour times are not going to be happy. They’ll have to hit the Smithsonian instead.

Do the tours really have to be cut? That’s another question entirely. Given their visibility, it’s quite possible that the administration is just engaging in a variant of the time-honored Washington Monument budget ploy.

That’s named after an apocryphal story of a Parks Service chief offering to close the Washington Monument as a contribution to budget austerity. The point is to highlight the effect of reductions by doing away with the most visible and well-liked government services.

But the Obama administration can’t close the Washington Monument this time around. It’s already shut to visitors due to repairs needed to fix the effects of the 2011 D.C.-area earthquake.

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