HONOLULU — President Barack Obama said Monday year-end wrangling over the budget and jobs measures might delay the start of his December holiday vacation in Hawaii, as U.S. political gridlock showed no sign of easing.
"It is great to be home, great to feel that Aloha spirit," Obama told a fundraiser in his native state of Hawaii, where he had spent the weekend hosting world leaders at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.
Obama said his wife Michelle and their two daughters would return to Hawaii soon for their traditional Christmas vacation trip but said his own plans hinged on whether Washington could break a deadlock on key pieces of legislation.
"We'll see if Washington gets its business done, so I can get here as well. But that's always a challenge," Obama said.
Congress faces a Dec. 23 deadline to approve measures reducing the U.S. deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years, but a panel of 12 lawmakers who must nail down details of the plan by Nov. 23 still have yet to agree a deal.
Obama also hopes to push through key elements of his $447 billion jobs package by the end of the year, including an extension of payroll tax cuts due to expire by the end of this year without action by the U.S. Congress.
The Senate last week overwhelmingly passed a measure that would provide tax credits to companies that hire military veterans. But Obama is struggling to get bipartisan support for larger parts of the jobs plan.
He criticized congressional Republicans for resisting initiatives including the payroll tax cuts and funds to fix roads and bridges.
"These aren't partisan issues. These are common-sense approaches to putting people back to work at a time when the unemployment rate is way too high. But politics seems to override everything in Washington these days," Obama said.
More action on jobs could be critical for Obama because his hopes of re-election in 2012 may hinge on whether he can persuade voters he is doing enough to boost the sluggish U.S. economy and bring down the unemployment rate of 9 percent.
FOCUS ON JOB CREATION
At the fundraiser at the Ko Olina Aulani Disney Resort, Obama headlined an event for around 250 people, with ticket prices starting at $1,000 each. The money raised will go to his re-election campaign coffers and to help his Democratic Party.
Obama then headed out onto the golf course with two White House aides and high school friend Bobby Titcomb.
He leaves Tuesday for Australia in the next leg of a tour that will also take him to Bali, Indonesia for further meetings with Asian leaders.
At the APEC summit in Honolulu, Obama sought to highlight his efforts to create jobs as he hailed progress toward a trans-Pacific trade pact. He also took a tough approach on trade with China, telling Chinese President Hu Jintao in a private meeting that American impatience was growing with the state of the economic relationship.
At the fundraiser, Obama defended his signature healthcare legislation, saying it would provide security for Americans "so that if you get sick -- if you have a preexisting condition -- you can still afford to get health insurance, you will still have access to quality care."
He did not directly discuss the Supreme Court's announcement that it would rule on the fate of the healthcare law, which has faced lawsuits from several states that are urging the landmark legislation be struck down.
Obama also discussed his grandmother, who passed away in 2008, to make the case against Republican proposals to rein in Medicare spending.
Obama said that as he watched his grandmother "fade away," it was a comfort to know she had access to the Medicare health program for older Americans.
A ruling on the healthcare law is expected by July. If the court were to strike down the law, it would be a major political blow for Obama. (Additional reporting by Samson Reiny and Alister Bull; editing by Todd Eastham)
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