It’s been nearly eight months since a series of forced, automatic budget cuts shuttered the doors of the White House to the public. It was one of the most-symbolic effects of the sequester, but beginning next month, the doors to the White House will creak (but not swing) open once again.
The White House quietly posted a notice on its official website stating that it was “pleased to announce the resumption of a limited schedule of East Wing and Executive Residence tours, beginning on Nov. 5.” Its gardens and grounds will also open to visitors this coming Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with tickets available at the Ellipse Visitor Pavilion on a first-come, first-served basis beginning at 7:30 a.m. each morning.
“During this event, visitors can see the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, Rose Garden and South Lawn of the White House. Additionally, the White House Kitchen Garden -- the first vegetable garden at the White House since Eleanor Roosevelt’s Victory Garden -- will be accessible to guests,” the White House statement said.
Public self-guided tours of the White House officially ended on March 9 just before the start of Washington’s traditional high season for tourists, leaving school children, tour groups and individuals alike out in the cold. The complex receives about 660,000 people in a typical year, according to the National Park Service, though 2013 has been anything but.
The Secret Service protects the property and explained at the time that nixing the tours would save it $74,000 per week, or $2 million over seven months, allowing the agency to reallocate funds and avoid furloughing employees.
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Republicans called the move unnecessary and a ploy to drum up negative attention over the cuts so as to blame them. “This is nonsense. This is punishing the American people,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said at the time. “The president will use up more Secret Service time guarding him while he golfs than it would take to keep the White House tours open all year.”
That idea caught on, and Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, even submitted an amendment to a funding measure in the House that would forbid the president from golfing until tours resumed at the White House. "None of the funds made available by a division of this act may be used to transport the president to or from a golf course until public tours of the White House resume," the amendment read.
Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement on Friday: “We’re happy Americans can once again visit their White House, but even more pleased that the White House has finally caught up to Congress and figured out how to do more with less. It’s just a shame it took this long.”
A Secret Service spokesman said the agency was able to find money to resume the tours in appropriations from a budget bill, known as a continuing resolution, which ended the government shutdown on Thursday. "In light of the new fiscal year, the Secret Service is confident that, through the continuing resolution, tours can operate on a limited schedule while still meeting operational requirements," the spokesman said.
The tours will run for about three days a week on average (instead of the previous five) through Jan. 15, 2014, with those interested in visiting needing first to submit a request through their Congressional Representative or embassy in Washington. What happens after Jan. 15 depends on yet another round of debate over government funding.