As President Barack Obama arrived in South Florida on Tuesday to raise campaign money and boost his "Buffett Rule" tax proposal, Republicans blasted him for spending too much time and taxpayer money campaigning.
Democrats responded that Obama is playing by the same rules as previous administrations when it comes to paying for political trips on Air Force 1, and rejected an assertion by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami that Obama takes too much vacation time.
Meanwhile, the White House announced that Obama will make a speech on trade at the Port of Tampa on Friday, on his way from Washington to Colombia for a Summit of the Americas.
Full travel plans for that trip haven't been announced yet, but it apparently won't include any campaign stops.
Obama made a speech at Florida Atlantic University on Tuesday on the Buffett Rule, his proposal that high-income people should pay at least as large a proportion of their income in taxes as middle- and low-income earners, or at least 30 percent.
That speech, an official presidential event, was sandwiched between three campaign fundraising events.
A watchdog group said those events would reap $2 million or more for Obama's campaign and the Democratic Victory fund. The victory fund is a joint campaign-Democratic Party fund which can accept larger contributions than the campaign itself.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who faces re-election in November, accompanied Obama.
The cost of the trip isn't known yet, but a campaign spokeswoman said it will be split between the campaign and the government, a longstanding procedure.
"The campaign will follow all rules and pay for the portion of travel that relates to political events, as has been true for previous incumbent Presidential candidates," said spokeswoman Katie Hogan.
But in a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Diaz-Balart and national Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus accused Obama of forcing taxpayers to pay for campaign travel.
They acknowledged that previous presidents including George W. Bush have done the same thing -- mixing campaign and official business in a single trip, with a campaign or political party sharing the cost with taxpayers.
But they contended the trip was actually a political trip with the FAU speech added "at the last minute ... to get the taxpayers to pay for it," in Priebus' words.
Diaz-Balart called it "strictly a fundraising trip," and said, "This has this been abused in the past, absolutely, but rarely has it been so blatantly abused."
The Republican said the fundraiser invitations were published in March, while the FAU event wasn't announced until last week.
It's typical, however, for official presidential events to be announced with short notice, while political fundraising invitations go out well in advance. Initial news reports in March about the fundraising events also mentioned an official event likely to be included.
Most official trips are announced with seven to 10 days' notice, said the White House official.
Diaz-Balart, meanwhile, contended that Obama isn't working hard enough and is taking too much time off.
"He has played more golf than President Bush, he has taken more vacations on the taxpayer dollar ... He has abused the privileges of the White House really without precedent in recent memory, whether it's his golf outings, his New York weekend outings, his time on the beach," Diaz-Balart said.
Emails and calls to Diaz-Balart's office requesting documentation of that didn't produce a response Tuesday.
The Telegraph reported last week that Obama, an avid golfer, has played 32 times since taking office, more than Bush in his entire presidency.
Bush told reporters in 2008 he gave up the game in 2003, less than three years after taking office, considering it inappropriate during wartime, but according to CBS's Mark Knoller, who documents White House statistics, Obama tied Bush in number of rounds played after less than a year office.
Veteran Florida Democratic political strategist Steve Schale, head of Obama's state campaign in 2008, said Diaz-Balart was far off the mark on Obama's vacation time.
"There is no comparison with Bush on vacation days -- Obama's not in the same league," he said. "Bush used to take extended trips to the ranch in Texas."
Knoller reported in August 2011 that Obama had taken 61 vacation days after 31 months in office, while at the same point in his presidency, Bush had spent 180 days at his ranch, where his staff often joined him for meetings.
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