President Obama is coming under increasing scrutiny for what critics say is a growing problem—his spending of taxpayer money on political trips.
This is a common complaint from the opposition when an incumbent president travels during a re-election campaign. But Obama is being targeted earlier than usual because his travel is so extensive.
Tomorrow, he is scheduled to visit Scranton in the swing state of Pennsylvania to argue for his economic program.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney got into a pointed exchange about the issue at his latest media briefing when ABC News White House correspondent Jake Tapper said Obama appeared to be "campaigning on the taxpayer dime." Carney replied, "I reject the premise of that." He argued that Obama has "expanded the political map" by making some formerly Republican bastions into competitive swing states, and that Obama shouldn't be discouraged from visiting those battleground areas just because he has substantial political support there and wants to maintain it.
Carney also said some battleground states such as Virginia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania are relatively close to Washington, D.C., which makes them likely places to visit for "logistical" reasons.
The issue was raised yesterday in detail by the Wall Street Journal, which reported that Obama is visiting more battleground states than George W. Bush or Bill Clinton did at similiar points in their presidencies. The Journal reported that tomorrow's trip to Pennsylvania will be Obama's 56th event in presidential battleground states this year. The Journal found that during the same period during his third year in office, George W. Bush held 49 events in battleground states and Bill Clinton held 40 events.
"He goes to red [Republican] states," Carney said. "He goes to blue [Democratic] states. He goes to states that are considered battleground states." Carney argued that it's all appropriate, partly because Obama is fulfilling his duties by explaining his policy agenda and trying to stay in touch with the country by traveling outside Washington. Republicans argue that the trips are mostly political, designed to boost Obama's re-election prospects.
The tradition at the White House, regardless of party, often has been for the government to pay for the "official" part of a trip and have a campaign organization or party committee pay for campaign-related expenses. Defining those categories is, of course, subjective.
Officials at the Obama White House had no immediate estimate of how much the government is spending on Obama's trips. But presidential travel is alway a costly venture.