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Obama's Vacation: An Unwise Break or a Healthy One?

Obama's Vacation: An Unwise Break or a Healthy One?

By Alexis Simendinger - August 11, 2011

President Obama looks forward to a 10-day summer vacation on Martha’s Vineyard with his family beginning Aug. 18. Period.

And why is the White House so resolute on this topic? Because “there’s no such thing as a presidential vacation,” Obama spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday.

In other words, the White House goes where the president goes, communication is constant, and serious events that demand presidential decision-making overtake even the most eagerly awaited plans for beach reading, biking, golf and kibitzing with friends. Just ask Barack Obama. His summer sojourns since 2009 have repeatedly been ambushed by domestic and international disasters, such that journalists talk about the Obama “vacation jinx.”

Despite bipartisan grousing that the president should call Congress back to Washington to chip away at a mounting pile-up of world woes, the president plans to conclude a three-day bus tour through Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois next week, and then escape to a private, rented compound on the posh Massachusetts island, which he and his family have for years enjoyed as a summer retreat.

Events will dictate whether Obama remains out of sight for the entire vacation period, or if he makes short public trips to underscore his attention to work. Carney on Wednesday said his boss “will not rest” until he ensures that every American who wants a job can find one. As Republicans keep pointing out, there are more than 14 million Americans who are waiting for that delivery.

The country’s mood following the debt ceiling battles and last week’s U.S. credit downgrade by Standard & Poor’s is now so bleak that most people express doubts that either the president or Congress can lead the nation out of a ditch. That despondency calls into question whether Obama’s heartland bus tour, reminiscent of his 2008 campaign, or his White House meetings with corporate executives and celebrations of American innovation through various swing states -- or any new policy ideas -- can gain traction with the public in the absence of tangible economic improvements.

A Washington Post poll conducted Aug. 9 and released Wednesday found that confidence in Obama to make the right decisions for the country’s economic future plummeted 10 points, to 33 percent, since January. Confidence in congressional Republicans, which was at 35 percent in January, fell to 18 percent. (The overnight poll of 601 adults had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.)

With the wobbly economy and unemployment in mind, Obama promised this week to make clearer in “coming weeks” his ideas to curb deficits and control debt by another $1.5 trillion over 10 years, as required by law. The president has said he does not expect to work with Congress and its new “super committee,” made up of 12 lawmakers, until September when the House and Senate return to Washington.

Lawmakers fled the capital early this month after reaching a dramatic, last-second deficit-cutting compromise with the president to permit the Treasury Department to borrow to pay U.S. bills. Despite worries among a few House GOP freshmen that voters should see them at work in Washington while Obama plays in New England, House and Senate leaders do not foresee returning until September. Congress will enjoy a typical August recess, one that’s at least two-thirds longer than the R&R Obama has booked.

“The GOP freshmen have this one right,” said presidential historian and author Al Felzenberg. “Our politicians spend billions of dollars to get to Washington and refuse to put in 40-hour weeks once they get here. . . . My immediate sense is that both the president and Congress need to buckle down and work to solve the nation’s financial problems -- and soon. These are not ordinary times, and it is time the president and his sparring partners get back here to fix things, and with a sense of urgency.”

Felzenberg, the author of “The Leaders We Deserved (and a Few We Didn’t): Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game,” suggested that if there is any opening for Obama to work with House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid before the congressional super committee convenes in September, even better.

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Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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