White House Taking No Actions Yet to Cut Back Its Budget

While President Barack Obama has spent weeks warning of the dark consequences of across-the-board budget cuts, there’s one area of government where his staff has failed to calculate their impact: the White House itself.

Obama administration spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Thursday that “detailed decisions” have yet to be made about how the administration would meet a projected $24 million reduction to the executive office budget, which may include furloughs of presidential aides and other employees.

“I’m not going say that this person is going have to be furloughed today, if that hasn’t happened yet and we don’t know when that will happen specifically,” he said.

Under a law passed in 2011, $85 billion in automatic spending cuts, known as sequestration, began on March 1 for the remainder of this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

The law requires the executive office of the president, which has about 2,000 employees, to cut approximately $24 million out of its $711 million fiscal year 2013 budget request, according to a report by the White House Office of Management and Budget released the day the reductions came into effect.

That amount pales in comparison to cuts mandated from other departments: Customs and Border Protection, for example, must trim $512 million and the National Institutes of Health stand to lose nearly $1.6 billion in funding by the end of the fiscal year.

Actions Pending

The White House intends to cut back on purchases of supplies and equipment, delaying staff hiring, and potentially furlough employees to comply with the law, an aide to the president, who asked for anonymity because decisions haven’t been made, said today. The cuts could slow routine functions such as correspondence and have an impact on support for services such as the White House tours, he said.

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told lawmakers as far back as last July that automatic budget reductions would be a “disaster.” The Pentagon must come up with $46 billion in cuts in the seven months remaining in this fiscal year.

The Defense Department has said as many as 750,000 civilian employees may be subject to furloughs averaging one day a week, or 20 percent of their pay. The unpaid leave wouldn’t begin until April 25, according to Pentagon officials.

Pressuring Republicans

In the weeks leading up to the sequestration deadline, the White House tried to pressure Republican lawmakers to reach a deal by highlighting the economic pain that would come from trimming federal services.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, for example, warned of furloughs in a letter to agency employees on Feb. 11. Those cuts, agency officials told reporters, would lead to longer security lines at airports across the country. The Department of Justice sent preliminary furlough notices to 115,000 employees last month, Carney told reporters on March 4.

Earlier this week, the White House announced plans to cancel tours of the executive mansion starting March 9, citing “staffing reductions resulting from sequestration.”

The Secret Service calculates that canceling the tours will cut about $2 million in overtime pay this fiscal year, said spokesman Ed Donovan. The savings, he said, will help the agency avoid having to furlough employees. The Secret Service falls under the Department of Homeland Security budget.

Congressional Criticism

Republicans called the decision a political stunt designed to turn up the pressure on the congressional offices that distribute tickets as favors to their constituents.

South Dakota Senator John Thune, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, chided Obama for not looking to “cut his own wasteful golf outings and frivolous spending.” Along with 13 other Republicans, he sent a letter to the White House March 7 seeking information about the cost savings from the cancellations.

“The President is trying to make it tough on members of Congress,” said House Speaker John Boehner said in a March 6 interview on CNBC. “I want to know who is being laid off at the White House.”

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