Washington (CNN) - In a sign that campaign season is in full force on Capitol Hill, House Speaker John Boehner used his weekly press conference Thursday to rip into President Barack Obama, saying his recent trips were "pathetic."
The speaker argued the travel to three battleground states, where the president criticized Republicans on student loans, was political and demanded the Obama re-election campaign repay the Treasury for the cost of the trips.
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An animated Boehner slammed the president for waging "fake fights" with the GOP on the issue of potentially rising college loan costs and legislation to extend protections for female victims of domestic abuse and rape.
"Our country is facing some major and economic and fiscal challenges yet here's the president wasting time on a fake fight to try to gain his own re-election," Boehner said.
The speaker insisted the White House knew Congress was already working to make sure rates for subsidized Stafford loans don't double when the current law expires in July. He blasted wasting taxpayer money for multiple visits to three colleges, saying the cost of the trip amounted to $179,000 an hour. The Air Force said Air Force One costs $181,757 per flight hour to operate.
"This one does not pass the straight face test. You know it and I know it, so it's time for the Obama campaign to pony up and reimburse the Treasury," Boehner told reporters.
White House Spokesman Eric Schultz, responding to Boehner's remarks, explained the president's trips.
"This week's travel has been part of the President's official responsibility to get outside of Washington, DC, hear from students, and discuss stopping interest rates on their loans from doubling in July – an effort, that with Congress now taking action, looks to have been effective," Schultz said in a statement. "But like Friday's trip to Fort Stewart in Hinesville, Georgia to meet with troops, veterans, and military families this travel is part of the President's official responsibilities. When there is political travel, we follow all rules and regulations that all other Administrations of both parties have followed."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, immediately rejected Boehner's call and defended the trips, saying this type of criticism comes every presidential election cycle.
"You go back eight years ago, they always raise the same hue and cry: 'The president shouldn't be campaigning as president.' The president is, just like President Bush did, is following the rules. They are very, very careful," Reid said.
The Republican National Committee also criticized the president's recent travel late Wednesday, and called on the General Accountability Office to investigate whether it constituted official business.
Boehner maintained he wasn't coordinating his tough language with the campaign of presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
While the speaker has previously said he has a good relationship with the president, his criticism Thursday was at times scathing and personal. He called the recent trips by the president to highlight the student loan issue "beneath the dignity of the White House."
Referring to the presidency as "the biggest job in the world," Boehner said, "I've never seen the president make it smaller."