As President Obama jetted off to another tropical locale Tuesday, some lawmakers accused him of abandoning Washington at a critical juncture in congressional negotiations to reduce deficits and keep the government running.
"It's always helpful if the president has the guts to weigh in, but I haven't seen him weigh in on hardly anything," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican. "He's smart enough to do it, but he just won't do it. He doesn't lead."
Said Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican, "This is the biggest issue the country is dealing with right now, and he's completely out of pocket."
While the work of the congressional supercommittee on deficit reduction entered a critical phase, Mr. Obama boarded Air Force One in Hawaii Tuesday bound for Australia and then Bali for another international summit. And as he crosses more time zones, the president has tossed barbs at Congress, urging lawmakers to "bite the bullet."
"There's no magic formula," Mr. Obama said in Hawaii. "There are no magic beans that you can toss on the ground and suddenly a bunch of money grows on trees. We got to just go ahead and do the responsible thing."
The president's absence from the debate of the supercommittee, which faces a Nov. 23 deadline to reduce federal deficits by at least $1.2 trillion, is frustrating to some Republicans, who have given in somewhat by proposing revenue increases but don't see Democrats conceding on entitlement reform.
"Presidential leadership is irreplaceable," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican. "And what would help the most is if the president would identify the specific areas of entitlement reform that we have to have to reduce the debt."
Mr. Alexander added, "We only have one president of the United States, and whether he's in Australia or Hawaii or [elsewhere] in America, he could say 'Look — we're going to have to reform entitlements, especially the health care programs, or we're going bankrupt.' That's his job, he needs to be doing it. If he did it, it would help the supercommittee."
There's also a question of whether Mr. Obama's itinerary will get him back to Washington in time to sign a temporary measure to keep the government in operation. Congress faces a deadline of midnight Friday to approve such legislation, and the question has been raised about whether the White House might use an "autopen" signature for the second time in Mr. Obama's presidency.
Democrats, for the most part, say the president's presence in Washington is not needed for the supercommittee to complete its task.
"I don't think that makes much difference," said Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat. "The important thing is what's going on in that negotiating room. That's where the focus needs to be."
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, told reporters that no president has worked harder to put the country on a "fiscally sustainable, responsible path," pointing to the president's role in arduous debt talks with lawmakers last summer.
"I think he has done everything he could have done," Mr. Hoyer said.
If the supercommittee fails to agree on the deficit reduction goal, mandatory cuts would be imposed.
Some GOP lawmakers suspect Mr. Obama's trip to far-flung destinations fits in nicely with what they believe is his campaign strategy to blame Congress for any gridlock in Washington.
Said Mr. Hatch, "I personally believe the president does not want a successful conclusion so that he can run against the Congress. Look, I happen to like the man, but I don't think he's fulfilling his responsibility as president. He should be leading on these matters."
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Dave Boyer is a White House correspondent for The Washington Times. A native of Allentown, Pa., Boyer worked for the Philadelphia Inquirer from 2002 to 2011 and also has covered Congress for the Times. He is a graduate of Penn State University. Boyer can be reached at email@example.com.
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