The Washington Times - November 11, 2011, 05:46PM

Just before President Obama left town for a 10-day tour of Hawaii, Australia and Indonesia, he called up the co-chairs of the deficit super committee to check in and give them a bit of a lecture.

Mr. Obama separately phoned Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), the bipartisan Senate and House co-chairs of the 12-person select committee, from Air Force One shortly before leaving on the overseas trip.


The panel is tasked with trying to find at least $1.5 trillion in cost savings over the next decade – all before Thanksgiving, and has been struggling to break an impasse over increasing taxes on wealthy millionaires, which Republicans adamantly oppose.

Mr. Obama wanted a status update on the negotiations and also issued a stern warning not to try to lessen the consequences for the panel missing its deadlines or failing to accomplish its cost-savings goals.

According to the White House, Mr. Obama “made clear that he will not accept any measure that attempts to turn off part of the sequester,” or trigger, that would impose severe mandatory spending cuts equally across defense and domestic accounts if the committee fails.

As the committee failed to make progress in recent weeks, some lawmakers – including defense hawks such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) – started publicly discussing ways to unravel the triggers.

Any such sequestration cuts would not go into effect until 2013, leaving many lawmakers to conclude that they would never come to pass.

Congress was officially closed for Veterans Day on Friday but members of the super committee and their staff planned to work through the weekend in closed-door talks to keep pushing for a deal as the clock runs down before the Nov. 23 deadline.

Several Republicans have criticized Mr. Obama for failing to take a more integral role in the committee deliberations, while others questioned his decision to head off overseas for an expensive 10-day trip costing taxpayers at least $9 million just for the flights while lawmakers in Washington are struggling to find a way to dig the nation out of its mountain of debt.

When asked whether the timing of the trip was a good idea on Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney dodged the question, repeating that Mr. Obama’s ideas about deficit-reduction are well known.

“Well, let’s be clear about what the super committee is,” Carney told reporters. “It’s a congressional committee established by an act of Congress written by members of Congress, to include members of Congress, not administration officials, not the president, to do their job.”

“And their job is not as hard as a lot of people make it out to be,” he continued. “They need to basically come together around some common-sense solutions to our medium- and long-term deficit and debt problems and challenges.”