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Politics & The Nation



SUNDAY, AUGUST 15, 2010 In effort to spur gulf tourism, Obamas dive in

First family visits Florida ahead of summer vacation

by Michael D. Shear and Michael W. Savage

panama city, fla. — Most people who arrive for their week- end getaway in the hot and humid area commonly called the “Red- neck Riviera” make a beeline for the beach, rip off their clothes and take a quick dive in the ocean. But for President Obama, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Yes, the president told report- ers as he arrived here, he did plan to take a symbolic swim in the oil- threatened waters of the gulf. But he said he planned to do so out of view of the cameras, which might catch a glimpse. Last time, he re- minded them, he ended up shirt- less on the cover of magazines. “That’s a good thing,” a reporter

suggested. “No,” said the press-shy first

lady, standing next to the presi- dent, “it’s not.” The exchange was a reminder

that the 27-hour trip to this beach destination is as much about presidential symbolism as it is about relaxation for the first fami- ly, which arrived here with dog Bo, but without older daughter Malia,who is at summer camp. Later Saturday afternoon, the president did, in fact, take a dip in the warm waters of the gulf. A pic- ture released by the White House showed him swimming with daughter Sasha. Obama was shirt- less, but all you could really see above the water was his head. Aides said the president’s swim took place at the beach in front of the hotel not far from where he ate lunch. The short visit is intended to demonstrate to potential tourists that the gulf region is still a lovely spot to vacation despite uncer- tainty caused by the oil that

gushed out of a broken well. In remarks at the local Coast Guard station, Obama used the opportunity to reassure gulf resi- dents that even though the leak is plugged, the government will not abandon the residents and busi- nesses that remain. “I’m here to tell you that our job

is not finished, and we’re not go- ing anywhere until it is,” he said. “That’s a message I wanted to come here and deliver directly to the people along the Gulf Coast. I will not be satisfied until the envi- ronment is restored, no matter how long it takes.” The remarks followed a round- table discussion with local busi- ness owners.

But the most effective images

for Panama City and the rest of the struggling gulf economy are likely to be the ones of a happy first family enjoying themselves the way regular tourists might. That’s what several locals had said they were eager to see. “He’s got to get in the water,” Mark

Bellinger, director of Emerald Coast tourism, told the Miami Herald. “I’d be ecstatic.” The president could not totally escape Washington on Saturday. Obama generated a new round of headlines on Web sites when he clarified his earlier remarks about a new Islamic center being built near New York’s Ground Zero. But as soon as the president and his family were done with of- ficial business Saturday, they started acting more like tourists. First up was a trip to Lime’s

Bayside Bar and Grill, located on a long pier with wooden tables fea- turing buckets of napkins and bottled water. The three famous diners shared fish tacos, chicken tenders, a burger and guacamole. Sitting at the edge of the water, Obama wore a white polo shirt, a tan baseball cap with a USSS logo and sunglasses. The first lady switched into a black tank top and sunglasses. After lunch, the Obamas took the time for a family game of putt-

putt. Sasha hit her bright orange ball into a hole-in-one on the first hole, prompting a beaming father to say, “Did you guys see that one? . . . That was unbelievable. Man. Hole in one.” The first lady didn’t do as well, taking what she called “a first lady gimmie” on the hole. It is the fifth time the president has visited the area since the oil spill crisis began, but perhaps not the family’s first choice for a vaca- tion spot. The decision to come here, after all, was virtually en- sured by the first lady’s remarks the last time she visited. “It’s welcoming, it’s pristine,

and everybody should come here!” she said of the beaches in Panama City, Fla., last month. “Truly, the best thing your fellow Americans can do is come down here and spend some money.” The weekend getaway is a

change from prior trips. Michelle Obama just returned from Spain with Sasha. And there was the Maine weekend, when the family escaped to a tiny seaside

town in the cool air of the upper Northeast. And earlier, the family spent a couple of days at a fancy North Carolina resort that has hosted presidents for 100 years. The Obamas took in Yellow- stone and the Grand Canyon ear- lier this year. But it is Martha’s Vineyard — haven of the rich and powerful — that appears to have the most appeal. Obama and his family vacationed there last Au- gust for a week, and they are re- turning this summer for 10 days. For one member of the first

family, any place is a good place for a vacation. First dog Bo ap- peared especially enthusiastic. He bounded up and down the aisles of Air Force One, looking for treats. After a brief helicopter ride from the airport to the Coast Guard’s Panama City district of- fice, Bo looked eager as he waited on a leash for his family to arrive.

Shear reported from Washington.

Specter of Social Security curtailment is revived

With Obama address, Democrats take aim, but few in GOP back idea

by Michael D. Shear and Lori Montgomery

Reviving a political tactic that Democrats have used before, President Obama said in his radio address Saturday that “some Re- publican leaders in Congress” want to privatize Social Security — even though few GOP law- makers today support the idea. The specter of a threat to the

program that provides retirement income to senior citizens is a pre- view of an attack that Democrats intend to make this fall, as they hope to blunt what appears to be a Republican surge in congres- sional elections. “I’d have thought that debate

would’ve been put to rest once and for all by the financial crisis we’ve just experienced,” Obama said of privatizing Social Security. “I’d have thought, after being re- minded how quickly the stock market can tumble, after seeing the wealth people worked a life- time to earn wiped out in a matter of days, that no one would want to place bets with Social Security on Wall Street.”


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But GOP leaders are not press- ing for privatization. The idea proved so unpopular when Presi- dent George W. Bush proposed it in 2004 that Congress, then led by Republicans, never took it up. The concept lives on in a budget pro- posal by Rep. Paul D. Ryan (Wis.), the senior Republican on the House Budget Committee, but only a handful of GOP lawmakers have signed on to that measure. And, in the aftermath of the worst shock to the financial system since the Great Depression, many Republican lawmakers would just as soon see the idea forgotten. A spokesman for House Repub- lican leader John A. Boehner (Ohio) accused Obama and the Democrats of dredging up old is- sues that are no longer valid. “Washington Democrats are be- ginning to sound like the pitcher in Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Glory Days’ — wistfully pining for the policy debates of the last decade,” said the spokesman, Michael Steel. The issue of Social Security is already playing out in races across the country. In Nevada, U.S. Senate candi-

date Sharron Angle (R) has a new television ad in which she pledges to “save” the program and accuses her opponent, Majority Leader

Harry M. Reid (D), of “raiding” the retirement trust fund. Angle’s ad comes after weeks of taking on water over the issue as Reid has repeatedly slammed her for past comments on Social Secu- rity. One Reid ad featured Angle saying, “We need to phase Medi- care and Social Security out.” Such back and forth is a micro- cosm of what Democrats hope will be a similar debate in races around the country about what to do next on Social Security. To commemorate Sunday’s 75th an- niversary of Social Security be- coming law, the Democratic Sena- torial Campaign Committee has released a list of 13 Republican Senate candidates expressing support for some form of privati- zation of the retirement system. Meanwhile, a coalition of 60

liberal groups and advocates for the elderly, including the AFL- CIO and, are pre- dicting a different threat to Social Security: the possibility that a bi- partisan deficit commission cre- ated by Obama will propose slash- ing benefits to help dig the nation out of debt.

Coalition members plan to but- tonhole lawmakers as they cam- paign for reelection this fall, de- manding that they sign a pledge to oppose any cuts to program en- titlements, such as raising the re- tirement age. “Over the coming weeks and months, we’re making sure every politician is put on no- tice: If you’re looking to raise the retirement age, you should be looking to retire in November,” said Nita Chaudhary, campaign director at Such an effort could make the work of the deficit commission far more difficult. Commission mem- bers from both parties view Social Security as a prime opportunity for compromise — far easier to address than, for example, an overhaul of the tax system — and say they want to stabilize the pro- gram’s finances.

But forging a bipartisan com- promise is likely to require cost- cutting as well as higher taxes. Boehner and House Democratic leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) have both suggested raising the retire- ment age, which leading econo- mists and budget experts have ad- vocated. The commission is also studying less dramatic options, such as changing the way in- flation is measured for benefit ad- justments and slowing the rate of increase in benefit payments for better-off retirees.

Staff writer Chris Cillizza contributed to this report.

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