Obama starts Hawaiian vacation, leaving Washington on ice

KAILUA, Hawaii Sun Dec 23, 2012 7:48am IST

U.S. President Barack Obama and the first family arrive at Hickam Field for their holiday vacation in Hawaii December 22, 2012. REUTERS/Larry Downing

U.S. President Barack Obama and the first family arrive at Hickam Field for their holiday vacation in Hawaii December 22, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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KAILUA, Hawaii (Reuters) - Taking what promised to be a very brief Christmas break from the ongoing struggle to avoid the "fiscal cliff" of tax hikes and spending cuts, President Barack Obama relaxed with his family on Saturday at a beach retreat in Hawaii.

Congress was to return to Washington next Thursday and Obama has pledged to work with lawmakers to strike a deal to avoid the economic shock from tax and spending measures set to take effect on January 1 if a deal can't be reached, which many economists say could push the U.S. economy back into recession.

The president is expected to indulge in some of his favorite pastimes on the island where he was born and raised: golf, an expedition for the local treat "shave ice," and an evening out with family and friends. He hit the links at the nearby Marine Corps base under sunny skies on Saturday afternoon.

On Sunday, he is expected to attend funeral services for Senator Daniel Inouye, the long-serving Democrat from Hawaii who died on Monday, but the president has no other public events on his schedule.

On Saturday, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he had urged Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat, to name Inouye's successor "with due haste."

"It is critically important to ensure that the people of Hawaii are fully represented in the pivotal decisions the Senate will be making before the end of the year," Reid, of Nevada, said in a statement.

Obama's idyll was not expected to last more than four days, and he will likely retrace the more than 4,800-mile (7,725 km) trip from the Aloha State to Washington after Christmas in a bid to cut a deal with Republicans, who failed on Thursday to agree on competing tax and spending bills of their own.

Before leaving Washington on Friday evening, Obama urged Congress to come up with a stopgap measure to spare the U.S. economy the jolt of $600 billion in tax increases and spending cuts economists say would likely derail the economy.

The president asked lawmakers for a stripped-down deal to continue lower tax rates on middle income earners and extend unemployment insurance benefits to avoid some of the worst effects of the "fiscal cliff" in the new year.

Obama's family holiday, in a quiet beach front community on the other side of the island from bustling Honolulu, should also provide some respite from the somber focus on the Newtown, Connecticut, school massacre and the consequent bitter debate over measures to change America's gun culture and prevent violence.

The president's weekly radio and Internet addresses, which in recent weeks have centered on his argument for extending tax cuts for all but the wealthiest Americans, on Saturday offered holiday greetings to U.S. military forces. (Reporting By Mark Felsenthal and Richard Cowan; Editing by Vicki Allen, Todd Eastham and Paul Simao)

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