Lawmakers call for Obama 'leadership' on averting defense cuts, tax hikes

With the nation teetering on a "fiscal cliff" and no end in sight to the sluggish economy, President Obama is facing fresh and growing accusations that he's "MIA" on a looming catastrophe that "requires presidential leadership."

"He should be in there. He should be talking with us. He should be leading. And he's MIA," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told Fox News on Monday.

The criticism comes as Obama keeps a packed fundraising schedule. The president has held nearly 130 fundraisers this year, counting one Monday night in New York City. The itinerary is in part a product of the drive to keep pace with Mitt Romney's fundraising machine. But as Obama is out on the trail, a budget thunderstorm is approaching Washington.

On the jobs front, the economic news continues to dim. Growth slowed to 1.5 percent in the second quarter, and the unemployment rate is stuck at 8.2 percent. But what's more troubling to just about every official in Washington is what the so-called "fiscal cliff" could do to the already-slack economy. That's the term for the combination of massive tax hikes and massive defense spending cuts that are set to take effect starting in 2013 unless Congress acts.

Two Republican senators setting out Monday on a tour to draw attention to the defense cuts told Fox News that Obama is not leading on these issues.

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McCain, R-Ariz., said averting the cuts "requires presidential leadership."

"No matter who or what was responsible, the president of the United States is commander-in-chief. He's the only one," McCain told Fox News.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., similarly said members of Congress have to "get into action" on preventing the cuts and questioned where the president was in the debate.

"Where's our president? ... He really has been absent and we're calling on his leadership," she told Fox News.

The looming defense cuts are in large part the making of congressional lawmakers. A bipartisan committee was tasked last year with nailing down mutually agreeable deficit-reduction measures, or else face an ax of indiscriminate cuts to the military and other areas. The committee, though, failed to strike a deal, and those indiscriminate cuts were triggered.

The White House has argued that Congress has dropped the ball on this issue, and further suggested that if lawmakers could only agree to raise taxes on top earners, then a deal could be worked out -- or could have been worked out -- to reduce the planned cuts to the military.

"The only opposition to a balanced deficit reduction plan has come from Republicans who refuse to accept the very mainstream principle that we should not ask only the middle class and seniors to bear the burden of getting our fiscal house in order," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said last week. "We have a situation where defense cuts that the president believes are much too deep, that Republicans and Democrats believe are much too deep, as well as non-defense cuts -- Republicans would allow those to go into place, rather than ask millionaires and billionaires to pay a little bit more. That's unacceptable as far as this president is concerned."

He reiterated that Obama, just like Republicans and Democrats in Congress, "doesn't support" the planned cuts.

Asked specifically about the McCain-Ayotte tour on Monday, Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said "the president remains concerned about the impact" the cuts could have.

"But it's important for everybody to remember how we got to this point, which is that the sequester was put in place, it was voted into law by Republicans and Democrats to force Congress to take action on a plan that would have a meaningful impact on our long-term deficit," he said, noting that Obama put forward a plan last year to do that.

The cuts, though, are not the only issue where lawmakers are calling on Obama to get more involved.

House Speaker John Boehner, in an interview with Fox News last week, said he's ready to sit down "tomorrow" with Obama or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to resolve the dispute over the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. The Senate has passed a version that would extend those rates for households making under $250,000, and raise them for top earners -- which is what Obama has endorsed. The GOP-controlled House does not support that plan.

Yet Boehner and Obama have not met in person since May 16 to try and work out their differences.

The only other time they met this year, not counting ceremonial events, was Feb. 29. Both those events were meetings with bipartisan, bicameral congressional leaders - hardly a one-on-one sit-down, let alone an intimate round of golf.

Boehner, in the Fox News interview, also criticized Obama for "running around" and campaigning, particularly at the expense of work on jobs.

The president drew criticism from Republicans earlier this month following reports that he hadn't met with his so-called jobs council for six months.

Romney hammered the president over the hiatus during a town hall meeting in Ohio, accusing Obama of prioritizing his job over the jobs of other Americans -- and pointing out that the president's held over 100 fundraisers.

Romney's been no slouch when it comes to fundraising either. He even held an unprecedented fundraiser in Israel Monday.

But as the challenger, Romney has the luxury of fundraising at will. While the president has the incumbent advantage, he also faces the challenge of having to balance the campaign with the duties of his office.

McCain and Ayotte, stepping up their call for the White House to get involved in averting the defense cuts, plans to tour battleground states that are home to major military sites and defense jobs. The tour Monday will take them through Florida and North Carolina.'s Judson Berger contributed to this report.