Obama starts Hawaii vacation that is expected to be brief

KAILUA, Hawaii Sat Dec 22, 2012 4:18pm EST

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KAILUA, Hawaii Dec 22 (Reuters) - Exhausted from his long re-election campaign and the ongoing struggle to avoid a "fiscal cliff" of tax hikes and spending cuts, President Barack Obama relaxed with his family on Saturday at a beach hideaway in Hawaii, starting what was shaping up to be a brief Christmas holiday.

Congress was to return to Washington on Thursday and Obama has pledged to work with lawmakers to strike a deal to avoid severe tax hikes and spending cuts slated to start to take effect on Jan. 1, which most economists say could reverse the economy's fragile gains.

The president is expected to engage in familiar routines on an island where he was born and raised: golf, an expedition for the local treat "shave ice," an evening out with family and friends.

On Sunday, he also will 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.

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

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

The president asked lawmakers for a stripped-down deal to continue lower tax rates on middle incomes that also would 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 a respite from the somber focus on the Newtown, Connecticut, mass shooting and the resulting renewed emphasis on measures to prevent gun 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.

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