Videos & Speeches
I am here to speak to an amendment that I previously filed, amendment No. 41. The purpose of this amendment is to help provide the White House with the opportunity to reopen its doors to the American people. It certainly has received a lot of attention, which demonstrates to me—and I am sure to my colleagues—how important a visit to the White House is to so many Americans. In my view, we can be much smarter, and we must be much smarter, with our spending decisions and make cuts in ways that do not intentionally or unnecessarily inflict hardship or aggravation upon the citizens of our country.
Canceling White House tours is one of those unnecessary and unfair ways for the Department of Homeland Security to meet its budget-cutting obligations—particularly if the necessary savings can be found someplace else within their budget. The self-guided White House tours were canceled either by the Secret Service or the White House—I have not been able to get a clear answer to actually who made that decision. But, regardless, they were canceled in order to save a minimum of $2.14 million, according to the Secret Service.
This amendment proposes to transfer $2.5 million from TSA to the U.S. Secret Service to pay for the security staff necessary for the White House tours to continue for the remainder of fiscal year 2013. Why go after TSA? In my view, TSA can absorb these costs. Just last week, TSA signed a contract—just last week TSA signed a contract—that would allow it to spend up to $50 million on uniform-related expenses over the course of the next two years. So last week, TSA spends $50 million for new uniforms, and now we have no money for tours at the White House.
Prior to signing that $50 million uniform contract, the TSA uniform allowance for security officers had already doubled last November as part of a new TSA collective bargaining agreement to an estimated $9.57 million annually. This works out to $443 per TSA employee per year. By comparison, officers in the U.S. Armed Forces receive either no uniform allowance or a one-time $400 allowance over the lifetime of their service.
There is no reason why American taxpayers should spend more on TSA uniforms every year than a U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant spends in a lifetime. And the same taxpayers who are funding the TSA officers' uniforms are being denied the opportunity to tour the White House—the people’s house.
This amendment has been scored by CBO, which found it would result in no net change in budget authority and would result in an estimated decrease in fiscal year 2013 outlays of $1 million. So it is an amendment that saves money. These White House tour closings are actually falling on the burden of Members of Congress because it is our responsibility to organize the tours, get the permission, and we are the ones who are now telling our constituents that tours that were previously approved—we have to call and give them the bad news.
In fact, today I had a couple of Kansans and their three young boys on the Capitol steps for a photograph and conversation, and these constituents with their family from Kansas were indicating how sad it was to tell their boys, even though they were here in Washington, D.C., they could not see the White House. In fact, they said: We played by the rules. We signed up. We went through the security. For months we were planning to come to Washington, D.C., but now that we have arrived, the White House is something that is not available to us and to our boys.
It’s often that we are the ones now providing that news to families in Kansas and across the country. My office has received lots of e-mails from concerned constituents, including some whose tours are not even scheduled until next May or June, sometime in the summer, asking whether we believe the White House will be reopened to them by that time. Between March 9 and March 21—just in that short period of time—we have already canceled 16 previously approved White House tours. Multiply that—assuming we are normal or average—by 100 Senate offices and 435 House Members, and that is a lot of Americans who had hoped or thought they were going to see the White House on their visit to our nation's capitol.
I read today that the White House has indicated they are going to try to find ways. I think the President said he is going to try to find ways to get young people, children, into the White House. I certainly express my desire to see that happen. But I was thinking, if we make that the case, then what happens to the Kansan who is the 91 year-old World War II veteran who is back here to see the World War II Memorial and while here wants to see the White House? Again, the White House should be available to all Americans—in fact, people from around the globe—to see the home of our President. Shaking up our entire tour scheduling process at a time in which the tourists are soon coming—or coming now with spring break and cherry blossoms—is something, in my view, we can avoid. This amendment would take money that we believe is less wisely spent and reopen the White House to the American people.
So I appreciate the opportunity to explain my amendment and would hope we can find a way, in working with the White House and working with the Secret Service, to make sure that noble building at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is something that is available for Americans to see, to view, and to be inspired. One of those kids, one of those folks who walks through that White House, someday might be the President of the United States. And we do not want to do anything that hinders the opportunity for that inspiration to occur and for Americans to continue to be proud in their executive officer—the President—and to be proud of the system of government we have. Let's not lose the inspiration. Let's not deny the American taxpayer, the American family the opportunity to see the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.