Despite continued protestations of doom over the sequestration cuts that have paralyzed all of Washington in the grips of terror over the past 25 days, President Obama somehow found it possible to commit the federal government to acquiring five new national monuments today. He did so by using the Antiquities Act, thereby circumventing Congress in the process.
Coincidentally, (no, really, we’re sure it’s just a coincidence), all five national monuments are located in blue states that just a few months ago committed their electoral college votes to the re-election of President Obama. Delaware, Maryland, New Mexico, Ohio and Washington well reap the financial benefit of the new federally designated monuments. Nothing like a nice reward for dedicated support, even while defense department employees are weeks away from receiving furlough notices.
The White House clearly recognizes the troublesome optics of the president’s act while encumbered by the new sequestration ethos in Washington, so they chose to bar the press from the signing ceremony. At today’s press riefing, White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest tried to claim that keeping the press away from the ceremony was no big deal:
Q Josh, just a follow-up on that. Doc Hastings, who’s the Chairman of the House of Natural Resources Committee, said that this was an odd time to be bringing this up when the government is struggling with the sequester, White House tours are closed, many agencies including the Park Service is struggling to keep open what they have. I think his quote was, this is the government spending money it doesn’t have on properties it doesn’t own. How do you respond to that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, my sense is, is that these designations today don’t necessarily — are made for important reasons, as I laid out before; that they have an impact on local economies; that they will — that you can see local economies growing up around the designation of these properties that as visitors come to enjoy these new national monuments that will have a stimulative impact on the local economies in these communities.
They also reflect a way to commemorate and, in some cases, even celebrate the history of this country. So there are important reasons for why the President took this step. In terms of the impact that this is going to have on the budget of the Department of Interior and the National Park Service, I’d refer you to them for that analysis. It’s my understanding, however, that a lot of the land for these new national monuments was either land that was already owned by the federal government or it was donated. And in terms of the immediate costs in terms of the management of the land, I think they’re pretty minimal in the early stages. But certainly future budgets that the administration will offer will reflect the acquisition of these new properties.
Q Just one more thing. Why was it closed, the signing closed? It fairly — I’m sorry, I almost made a pun — it’s a monumental — (laughter) — piece of legislation. I didn’t mean to do that.
MR. EARNEST: That’s pretty good.
Q But why close? I mean, there are not even stills in it?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think that we were able at the last minute to include some stills in there. There were a lot of people moving in and out who are participating in the ceremony. But this is something that was announced a couple of days ago so maybe we underestimated your interest in it.