By Alister Bull
VINEYARD HAVEN, Massachusetts (Reuters) - President Barack Obama has taken heat for taking a vacation when the U.S. economy is struggling, but aides are striving to make clear he is not neglecting the country's finances during his break.
On Monday, Obama met with a top economic adviser and spoke to investor Warren Buffett and Ford Motor Co. chief executive Alan Mulally about the economy, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Earnest also announced that Obama will travel to Detroit in two weeks to discuss the economy on the U.S. Labor Day holiday on September 5, setting up a major address on jobs he is to deliver later in the month.
The date of that address has not been set.
Obama will spend part of the day with workers and then make remarks to the Metro Detroit Central Labor Council, Earnest said.
With Buffett, the chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, Obama discussed the overall U.S. economic outlook and "reaction to the headwinds we've experienced over the last couple of months," Earnest told reporters in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, where Obama is staying with his family.
"They talked a little bit about some possible measures that would spur investment and increase economic growth. And they also talked about some measures that could address the long-term fiscal situation in this country," Earnest said.
Some critics from the rival Republican party had questioned whether it was appropriate for Obama to take his annual break given the country's economic problems, including an unemployment rate stuck above 9 percent and weak growth in the first half of 2011.
TRYING TO JUMP-START THE ECONOMY
Although his schedule includes family outings, golf games and receptions, Obama is expected to spend much of his nine days on the resort island working on a program meant to jump-start the economy and find budget savings that surpass the $1.5 trillion goal of a new congressional deficit-cutting committee.
Buffett, 80, one of the world's richest men, touched a national nerve last week by taking to the pages of The New York Times to call for higher taxes for himself and his well-off peers.
His call in the Times opinion piece came as Democrats and Republicans fiercely debate how to balance the U.S. budget. Republicans have resisted any attempts by Obama and his fellow Democrats to make higher taxes for wealthier Americans part of a budget plan.
With the Ford executive, Obama discussed developments in the automotive and manufacturing industries, and efforts to work through some temporary disruptions that they experienced earlier this year.
"They also talked a little bit about expanding economic growth, stimulating investment and expanding American exports," Earnest said.
Aides say he will lay out a package of steps for Congress to consider, including an extension of the payroll tax holiday and unemployment aid, infrastructure investment and patent reform, as well as other proposals that could include extending the payroll tax cut to employers.
Economists are skeptical that Obama, a Democrat, will be able to muscle anything significant through a divided Congress in which his Republican opponents control the U.S. House of Representatives.
(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle in Washington; editing by Cynthia Osterman)