Why are taxpayers funding President Obama's Midwest bus tour?

Because, says the White House, Obama is doing his job as chief executive, engaging with the American people. Republicans call the tour a campaign trip, but is it politics or business as usual?

Carolyn Kaster/AP
President Obama visits summer school kids on Monday, Aug. 15, in Chatfield, Minn., outside the George H. Potter Auditorium during his three-day economic Midwest bus tour.

President Obama this week is hopscotching through politically vital Midwest states on a big black bus and holding town hall meetings on the economy. To the White House, it is business as usual, the sort of national listening tour that sitting chief executives do all the time. But Republican leaders say it’s politics, and they say it’s something taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to fund.

“All he’s doing is campaigning. That’s what this bus tour is, it’s a campaign trip,” said Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus.

The RNC has thus labeled the trip the “Debt End Bus Tour” and put together a fake press briefing book for the event. They’ve even taken the little White House logo that’s splashed on genuine briefing papers and twisted it so the building looks like it’s crumbling.

The tour is “a totally non-political, taxpayer-funded administration event that just happens to criss-cross several battleground states critical to the president’s reelection,” says the book.

Well, is it? Let’s go to the videotape, as the late great Washington, D.C., sportscaster George Michael used to say.

On Monday, Obama stopped at a state park in Cannon Falls, Minnesota to address a crowd. Among other things, he criticized the entire GOP presidential field for its refusal to accept any new taxes as part of any deficit reduction deal.

“I mean, that’s just not common sense,” he said.

He hit at Mitt Romney in particular for opposing an individual mandate that Americans buy health insurance – something Romney supported when he was governor of Massachusetts.

Republicans “have amnesia” on this subject, he said.

He also mentioned House Speaker John Boehner by name and complained that he had walked away from a budget deal that included $2 trillion in budget cuts just because it would have raised taxes on the rich.

“He walked away because his belief was, we can’t ask anything of millionaires and billionaires and big corporations in order to close our deficit,” said Obama.

This sort of rhetoric is certainly political, in the sense that it’s promoting a certain outcome of the political process. The rest of Obama’s remarks, which were stump-speech-style promotions of administration proposals and accomplishments, were political by that definition as well.

However, Obama was careful to not mention that other party by name. His foil was not Republicans, but Congress, which he said could do things right now to help put Americans back to work. (He did say “Republicans” once, when he was talking about the individual mandate thing. Other than that, nada.)

And as White House spokesman Jay Carney noted, for Obama, it’s not yet election season per se. He does not face a primary campaign, as GOP contenders do. He is not raising money for his reelection effort during the Midwest swing.

“He is doing what presidents do, which is go out in the country and engage with the American people, have discussions about the economy and other policy issues ... to suggest that any time the president leaves Washington it’s a political trip would mean that presidents could never leave unless they were physically campaigning on their own behalf,” said Carney.

Hmm. We’ll note this is happening in a context in which candidates announce the schedule for their presidential announcements, in order both to build media coverage and skirt FEC financial disclosure laws to the last possible minute.

Who’s right here? Discuss amongst yourselves.

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