The Times West Virginian

Headline News

December 27, 2013

Obama signs budget deal, defense bill

Legislation ends cycle of fiscal brinkmanship by preventing another shutdown for two years

HONOLULU — Rounding out a tough and frustrating year, President Barack Obama signed a bipartisan budget deal Thursday easing spending cuts and a defense bill cracking down on sexual assault in the military, as the president and Congress began pivoting to the midterm election year ahead.

Obama put his signature on both hard-fought bills while vacationing in Hawaii, where he has been regrouping with his family since Saturday. The bill signing marks one of Obama’s last official acts in a year beset by a partial government shutdown, a near-default by the Treasury, a calamitous health care rollout and near-perpetual congressional gridlock.

Although the budget deal falls short of the grand bargain that Obama and congressional Republicans once aspired to, it ends the cycle of fiscal brinkmanship — for now — by preventing another shutdown for nearly two more years.

But the rare moment of comity may be short-lived. Hanging over the start of the year is a renewed fight over raising the nation’s borrowing limit, which the Treasury says must be resolved by late February or early March to avert an unprecedented U.S. default. Both sides are positioning behind customary hard-line positions, with Republicans insisting they want concessions before raising the debt limit and Obama insisting he won’t negotiate.

The last vestiges of 2013’s legislative wrangling behind him, Obama’s attention turns now to major challenges and potential bright spots in the year ahead. In late January, Obama will give his fifth State of the Union address, setting his agenda for the final stretch before the 2014 midterm elections, in which all of the House and one-third of the Senate are on the ballot.

The elections could drown out much of Obama’s effort to focus attention on his own, key agenda items.

Those include his signature health care law. The critical enrollment period for new insurance exchanges closes on March 31. Also at mid-year, Obama will be seeking to secure a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran before a six-month deal struck in November runs out.

“Hopefully the president has finally learned that if he wants a productive second term we need to focus on finding areas of common ground,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Wary of letting expectations get too high, Obama’s advisers have been careful not to read too much into Congress’ success in trumping pessimistic expectations and pulling off a modest, end-of-year budget deal.

In an email Thursday, senior Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer called for a renewed focus in the new year on job creation, an unemployment insurance extension and raising the minimum wage.

“While it’s too early to declare a new era of bipartisanship, what we’ve seen recently is that Washington is capable of getting things done when it wants to,” Pfeiffer said. “There’s an opportunity next year for this town to do its job and make real progress.”

The product of intensive talks before lawmakers left Washington for Christmas, the budget deal alleviates the harshest effects of automatic budget cuts on the Pentagon and domestic agencies. It reduces those cuts, known as the sequester, by about one-third, restoring approximately $63 billion over two years.

A projected $85 billion in savings are located elsewhere in the deal, including increases in an airport security tax and a fee corporations pay to have pensions guaranteed by the government. Also included: a contentious provision to pare down annual cost of living increases in benefits for military retirees under age 62. Those cuts will save the government about $6.3 billion over a decade.

With lawmakers eager to leave town for the holidays and Republicans hoping to keep the focus on problems with Obama’s health care law, the deal passed with bipartisan support in both the Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House — despite opposition from tea party groups that lined up to oppose it, arguing the deal would raise spending.

The comprehensive defense bill Obama signed will give military personnel a 1 percent pay raise. It also covers combat pay, ships, aircraft and bases. Lawmakers also gave Obama a rare victory in his fight to close Guantanamo Bay, by lifting the most rigid restrictions on transferring detainees overseas as part of the defense bill.

In a statement Thursday, Obama said Congress had taken a positive step by lifting those restrictions, but protested other constraints Congress left in place, including a ban on transferring detainees to the U.S. for imprisonment, trial or medical emergencies. He said some of the remaining restrictions, in some circumstances, “would violate constitutional separation of powers principles.”

“I oppose these provisions, as I have in years past, and will continue to work with the Congress to remove these restrictions,” Obama said.

The signing of the defense bill capped a year-long campaign led by the women of the Senate to address the scourge of rape and sexual assault in the military, which the Pentagon estimates may have affected 26,000 members of the military last year.

Commanders will no longer be permitted to overturn jury convictions for sexual assault. The law also requires a civilian review when commanders decline to prosecute, requires dishonorable discharge or dismissal for those convicted, eliminate the statute of limitations for courts-martial in rape and sexual assault cases and criminalizes retaliation against victims who report an assault.

The bill provides $552.1 billion for the regular military budget and $80.7 billion for the war in Afghanistan and other overseas operations, reflecting deficit-driven efforts to trim spending and the drawdown in Afghanistan after more than a decade of fighting there.

1
Text Only
Headline News
  • Boston Marathon organizers confident of safe race

    The arrest of a man with a rice cooker in his backpack near the Boston Marathon finish line led police to step up patrols Wednesday, while organizers sought to assure the city and runners of a safe race next week.
    The actions of the man, whose mother said he had a mental disorder, rattled nerves as Boston prepared for the annual race, but authorities said they did not consider it a security breach.

    April 17, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 12.51.22 PM.png VIDEO: Toddler climbs into vending machine

    A child is safe after climbing into and getting stuck inside a claw crane machine at a Lincoln, Neb., bowling alley Monday.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Solemn tributes mark Boston Marathon bombing anniversary

    Survivors, first responders and relatives of those killed in the Boston Marathon bombing marked the anniversary Tuesday with tributes that combined sorrow over the loss of innocent victims with pride over the city’s resilience in the face of a terror attack.

    April 16, 2014

  • Questions linger year after Boston Marathon bombs

    A surveillance video shows a man prosecutors say is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev placing a bomb near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, just yards from where an 8-year-old boy was killed when it exploded.

    April 15, 2014

  • Little sign of progress as Obama, Putin speak

    Speaking for the first time in more than two weeks, President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin showed little sign of agreement Monday, with the U.S. leader urging pro-Russian forces to de-escalate the situation in eastern Ukraine and Putin denying that Moscow was interfering in the region.

    April 15, 2014

  • 3 dead after suburban Kansas City shooting

    A man opened fire outside a Jewish community center on Sunday, killing two people before driving over to a retirement community a few blocks away and killing someone else, authorities said.

    April 14, 2014

  • Couple: Truck was on fire before deadly bus crash

    A couple said a FedEx tractor-trailer was already on fire when it careened across a median, sideswiped their car and slammed into a bus carrying high school students, adding a new twist to the investigation of a crash that killed 10 people.
    Initial reports by police indicated the truck swerved to avoid a sedan that was traveling in the same direction in this town about 100 miles north of Sacramento, then went across the median. There was no mention of the truck being on fire.

    April 13, 2014

  • ‘Obamacare’ under attack as conservatives eye 2016

    Republicans eyeing the 2016 White House race battered President Barack Obama’s health care law and nicked each other Saturday, auditioning before a high-profile gathering of conservatives that some political veterans said marked the campaign’s unofficial start.

    April 13, 2014

  • Finance officials: Global economy turns the corner

    The world’s top finance officials expressed confidence Saturday that the global economy finally has turned the corner to stronger growth. This time, they may be right.
    Despite challenges that include market jitters about the Federal Reserve’s bond-buying slowdown and global tensions over Ukraine, policymakers said they believe there is a foundation for sustained growth that can provide jobs for the millions of people still looking for work five years after the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

    April 13, 2014

  • There’s a new ‘face,’ but old problems for health care law

    Abruptly on the spot as the new face of “Obamacare,” Sylvia Mathews Burwell faces steep challenges, both logistical and political.
    Burwell, until now White House budget director, was named by President Barack Obama on Friday to replace Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who oversaw the messy rollout of the health care overhaul.

    April 12, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads