As troubles mount in D.C., Obama hits the road 

By Hayley Peterson

President Obama flew to Boston on Tuesday to drum up support for greater investment in education, while back home in Washington the Senate toiled over budget-slashing proposals to stave off a government shutdown and defense officials monitored a renewed outbreak of violence in Libya.

Obama's visit to TechBoston Academy in Massachusetts was his fourth domestic trip in the past month. Each week since January the president has visited a different city to highlight a different priority in his fiscal 2012 budget.

Meanwhile, political revolts are sweeping across the Middle East, clashes over public employee pension benefits are paralyzing some state governments and Congress is in a stalemate over a budget resolution intended to avoid a government shutdown.

Some say Obama can only play a limited role in resolving the crises involving Libya, state governments and even Congress, and his time is better spent focusing on jobs and economy-boosting investments.

"The president feels very strongly that education and education reform is an economics and a jobs issue," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday.

Obama's proposed budget for fiscal 2012 includes an 11 percent increase in federal education spending to more than $77 billion.

"If we don't have children being educated and graduating high school and moving on to higher education in the numbers that are necessary for the industries of tomorrow, then we cannot lead economically in the 21st century," Carney said.

As troubles mount in Washington, it's not unusual for presidents to fly the coop, said Thomas F. Schaller, a political science professor at the University of Maryland/Baltimore County.

"It is a time-honored tradition for presidents to escape the political heat of Washington by taking their message on the road and delivering it directly to citizen audiences," Schaller said. "Still, that doesn't change the fact that the president has to negotiate on the budget with a new Republican majority."

Some critics say Obama is using the trips to skirt unpopular heavy lifting in Washington and to get a head start on his unofficial 2012 campaign for re-election.

"Instead of problem-solving, [Obama] is in de facto campaign mode, running around the country touting his accomplishments," said Brian Darling, director of government relations for the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Obama headlined a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraiser in Boston Tuesday evening, marking his second campaign event in four days.

"He's not here in D.C. doing his job and I have to imagine that the American people will see through that," said Darling.

Obama's weekly job approval rating is down to 46 percent, its lowest level since mid-December, according to a Gallup Poll released Tuesday. His ratings peaked at 50 percent in January and held steady at 48 percent in the past three weeks.

Political consultant Vincent R. Harris said Obama's trips are an obvious attempt to divert public attention away from problems in Washington.

"President Obama is taking day trips trying to distract the American people," said Harris, founder of Harris Media LLC, which typically represents Republicans. "It won't work."

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