By JIM KUHNHENN
WASHINGTON -- Call it an above-the-fray strategy.
On hot issues that Democrats and Republicans have found cause to fret about -- from spending reductions to state labor disputes -- President Barack Obama is keeping a low profile.
Democrats such as Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia want him more publicly engaged in budget negotiations in Congress; some lawmakers want him to denounce Republican proposed program cuts.
Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Wis., and others in the party want him to go to Wisconsin to stand in solidarity with public unions fighting to retain their bargaining rights.
Some lawmakers in both parties want him to take a greater lead against Libya's Moammar Gadhafi.
But the White House sees no upside in outspokenness.
"There is a very strong gravitational pull in this town to try to drag the president to every single political skirmish and news story," said White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer.
Pfeiffer said Obama has enough issues on his agenda and said the White House doesn't believe the public wants the president weighing in on an array of subjects.
"They want him leading the country; they don't want him serving as a cable commentator for the issue of the day," he said.
At a news conference Friday, Obama defended the role he has played in seeking a compromise on spending cuts in the current federal budget to avoid a government shutdown. But he made it clear that resolving the impasse rests mainly with congressional leaders. "This is an appropriations task," he said, putting the issue firmly in Congress' domain.
Manchin said an agreement could only be reached if Obama led the negotiations. "And, right now -- that is not happening," he said.
But Obama noted that he has spoken to congressional leaders "about how they should approach this budget problem."
That doesn't preclude a White House role.
White House officials point to the negotiations in December that produced a deal with Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky on extending Bush-era tax rates as a template for other deals. But unlike the tax deal, when both sides got something they wanted, the debate over spending would require both to give something up while gaining little.