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A matter of priorities

We learned this week that sequestration cuts will force furloughs for those who help keep Americans' food supply safe, will deny tuition assistance to military

We learned this week that sequestration cuts will force furloughs for those who help keep Americans' food supply safe, will deny tuition assistance to military veterans, and cause real hardship on low-income Americans who rely on housing assistance.

But for reasons that increasingly defy comprehension, Washington doesn't want to talk about any of these issues or related sequester-related suffering. Instead, the cancelation of White House tours is dominating the Beltway conversation.

By my count, there were eight questions about the tours at yesterday's White House press briefing. George Stephanopoulos wanted to talk about this during a rare interview with President Obama, asking two questions on this. Congressional Republicans wanted to talk about this when the president met with them privately, and they're weighing a new resolution on the issue.

This was a bizarre distraction last week, but yesterday, it seems Washington's interest in the sequestration cuts' effect on White House tours took a farcical turn. The CBO says the sequester will cost the nation 750,000 jobs and the Beltway yawns; the White House says tours will be canceled and the Beltway screams.

It's hard not to wonder why media professionals are playing along with this. Time's Michael Grunwald said reporters are "obsessed" with the tours issue because "Republicans are talking about" it, and I suspect there's something to this. I've long argued that Washington is simply "wired" to advantage Republicans -- it's GOP ideas that get attention; it's GOP talking points that get internalized; it's GOP voices that get aired -- and so it stands to reason that if Republicans care about White House tour cancelations, it's the issue that the president's press secretary will get eight questions on, to the neglect of real sequestration consequences.

‏But that leads to an obvious follow-up question: why do Republicans care about this?

Ezra Klein, who lamented the "gross obsession" with the issue, had a helpful item on this yesterday.

Here's what's going on. The Secret Service is getting cut under the sequester. They took a look at the things they do and one of those things is they stand guard during White House tours so no one runs off and tries to attack the president. So rather than cutting one of the things they really need to do, they cut the White House tours. Seems pretty reasonable.The question is why Republicans in Congress and conservatives in the media have chosen this to get angry about. You can find the answer elsewhere on Fox News: "White House tours, which are self-guided, are typically scheduled through members of Congress. Visitors can request a tour through their representative up to six months in advance."So, these kids come to town, they can't get the tour they scheduled through their member of Congress, and now they're not so happy with their member of Congress and the sequester. That means that member of Congress now has a problem with some of their constituents -- and with the kinds of constituents who are likely to contact their member of Congress when their kid goes to Washington.

That's not a reassuring answer, and it's certainly not a satisfying answer, but it's an accurate one. Republicans aren't especially concerned with families who'll suffer without housing assistance, because they're not calling the office and they probably won't support GOP candidates anyway. But White House tours? That's different.

But this doesn't change the fact that, given the larger context and real-world consequences of this ridiculous sequestration policy, Washington's preoccupation with these tours is perverse.