President Obama appears determined to publicly keep his distance from the congressional super-committee and its failure to put forward a deficit-reduction plan, despite Republican efforts to shift blame to his end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
In his first public event in Washington since returning from a nine-day overseas trip, Obama made no mention of the imminent deadline for the 12-member panel. Instead, before signing a bipartisan bill that offers tax credits for businesses who hire veterans, Obama made a generic push for Congress to "keep working."
"Keep finding more ways to put partisanship aside and put Americans back to work," he said as two Senate members of the super-committee, co-chair Patty Murray of Washington and Max Baucus of Montana, looked on.
The message was geared toward congressional action on the remaining planks of his jobs package, not the committee's effort to offer a $1.5-trillion deficit-reduction plan.
Before the president left for a pair of international summits and an official visit to Australia, he had phoned Murray and the Republican co-chairman, Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, to urge them to get the job done.
But he's otherwise stayed out of the budget wrangling since he offered his own deficit plan in September, pivoting instead to his proposed American Jobs Act.
In his weekly address, Obama again focused on his jobs agenda, touting the potential of new trade deals his administration had negotiated. The GOP response was offered by a super-committee member, Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
There’s good reason for the White House strategy. After the summer debt-ceiling debacle, Obama's job rating hit an all-time low. He's only recently begun to show sustained improvement; Gallup's daily tracking poll showed his job rating Sunday at 45%, up 7 points from his summer low.
Republicans say Obama's passivity is part of the reason the committee is likely to fail.
"It fell apart I think because the president wanted an issue, not a solution," Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Budget Committee, said in an interview Monday. "The president of the United States, confronted with the most serious debt crisis in our nation's history, the commander in chief, missing in action. He is not providing leadership."
"What has the president done? Now and then, he phones in. Well, you can't be E.T.," Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the Republican whip, said on MSNBC. "You actually have to lead."
Sen. John Kerry, also a super-committee member, said such criticism is off base.
"Look, the president has already put a $4-trillion proposal on the table. The president showed that he was prepared to touch some of those third rails of American politics. He did that, and again people said no and they walked away from the deal," the Massachusetts Democrat said earlier on the cable network.
But another Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, is urging Obama to step in. The freshman senator, who faces voters again in 2012, sent the president a letter Monday urging him "to offer any and all support" in the final hours on negotiations.
Manchin also urged Obama and congressional leaders to allow the Congress to vote on the Simpson-Bowles deficit plan, the product of Obama's bipartisan debt commission last year.
Obama is expected to continue to push his jobs proposal Tuesday with a trip to New Hampshire, his first visit to the battleground state and home of the first presidential primary in nearly two years.
Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.