White House tour cancellations disappoint visiting school groups, other spending cuts kick in

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- They rode busses from Burlington, North Carolina, with confirmation in hand for a tour inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

But the fifth-grade students from Eastlawn Elementary only made it as far as the park outside of the White House gates.

Just before their trip to Washington, officials at the school learned their tour was canceled due to the automatic spending cuts, known as "sequestration."

"I'm ticked off," student Jakiah Sellers said. She speculated that the tour was canceled because "Obama doesn't want anybody to see his beautiful house."

The bruised feelings should come as no surprise. It was a struggle for many of the students to afford the $300 trip. Fundraisers were held. Some parents made monthly payments to cover the cost.

"That was the highlight of our trip for our students. And it's a once in a lifetime opportunity that some of us may not get again," Eastlawn Elementary teacher Stacy Stallings said.

Two weeks after the automatic spending cuts kicked in, Americans are only beginning to feel the effects of reductions that are slowly impacting countless federal programs.

A highly visible reminder of the potential for disruptions, the White House tours were canceled by administration officials who say they had to choose: either dock the pay of U.S. Secret Service agents through furloughs or scrap the visits.

"This is a very unfortunate circumstance that is a result of the sequester," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Thursday.

Peppered with questions about the shuttered tours for more than a week, White House officials have pointed to other important programs affected by the cuts, from small airports where air traffic control towers will be closed to Head Start classrooms where thousands of teachers will be laid off.

Amanda Harrison, a military wife from California, started a petition to reinstate the tuition assistance program that was abruptly ended for members of the armed services.

Harrison's husband, John, joined the Marines, in part because he was enticed by offers of financial aid dangled by recruiters.

"You don't get to maintain a good job being a service member's wife," Harrison said, wiping away tears from her eyes.

"You know, we give up a lot and this was a little something in return for everything we do," Harrison added, referring to the tuition assistance program.

During a visit to the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, President Barack Obama said he was still working with Republicans and Democrats to reverse the forced spending reductions, in part, because of their impact on scientific research.

"They don't trim the fat," the president said about the sequestered cuts. "They cut into muscle and into bone."

John Holbrook, the president of the field trip company that guided the Eastlawn Elementary students around Washington, said he worries about the impact of the cuts on his business.

Schools have already called to inquire about the canceled White House tours, an indication to Holbrook that some may decide against a visit to the capital.

Holbrook said Eastlawn's trip was hardly a total loss.

The fifth graders visited the U.S. Capitol and laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetary.

They also received a civics lesson in broken government.

"We try to spin that into an opportunity to teach them about government and federal spending and how that impacts their daily lives in more than one way," Holbrook said.

"But they're never really happy about the outcome of the civics lesson," he added.

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