Post-Vacation, Obama Faces Bitterly Divided Washington
WASHINGTON -- President Obama reportedly enjoyed a nice respite with the family on Martha’s Vineyard over the past several days, but the pressing issues confronting him upon his return are unlikely to provide any similar sort of diversion.
From what promises to be a tense negotiation over a fiscal year 2014 spending plan to the deteriorating situation in Egypt, Obama will find himself facing anything but a vacation -- with the possible exception of welcoming to the White House the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins. (Or at least most of them.)
The most important issue confronting the White House is the budget, or more likely a continuing resolution to keep the federal government’s doors open beyond the Oct. 1 starting date for the new fiscal year.
The White House and Congress have only six weeks to reach some resolution and the situation is further complicated by the government reaching its debt limit sometime in late October or earlier and the desire among some Republican lawmakers to defund Obamacare, a position that already has produced disagreements among congressional Republicans.
And there is the question about what to do, if anything, about sequestration, the automatic, across-the-board budget cuts adopted when lawmakers proved unable to reach an agreement on spending cuts two years ago. The Budget Control Act of 2011 imposed $85 billion in cuts last March and another $109 billion will be sliced at the outset of FY 2014.
Obama has called for an end to sequestration, asserting that the cuts represent a drag on the economy. Foes also are citing the news that 57,000 children will have to be eliminated from the Head Start rolls as a result.
Regardless, House Speaker John Boehner, R-OH, has consistently maintained that the president will have to accept even deeper budget cuts if he expects to attract GOP support for raising the debt limit above the current $16.7 trillion level. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has prevailed upon lawmakers to send the White House a “clean” debt limit increase, asserting that anything else will harm the fragile economic recovery.
“We're not going to raise the debt ceiling without real cuts in spending,” Boehner said late last month. “It's as simple as that.”
Some Republicans already have expressed a willingness to shut the government down if the administration refuses to adopt additional austerity measures. Meanwhile, several lawmakers are equally insistent that any spending package defund Obamacare appropriations. Sen. Mike Lee, R-UT, is heading the offensive with support from like-minded Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY.
“The best way to delay Obamacare is to defund it,” Lee said. “Once Congress returns from the August work period, the House should act quickly to pass a continuing resolution that funds the government, but not Obamacare. It is the only responsible course of action to protect Americans from this ill-conceived and poorly crafted policy before it is too late.”
Obama is likely to veto any funding measure that fails to provide money necessary for his top initiative. House and Senate GOP leaders are wary of the tactic, concerned that the party will be held responsible for any governmental shutdown. But various Tea Party organizations are vowing to fund primary challenges against those Republicans who don’t stand solidly against the program.
If all that wasn’t bad enough, Congress isn’t even scheduled to return to Washington until Sept. 9, giving both sides less than a month to develop a compromise.