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Obama signs bipartisan budget deal, defense bill

By Josh Lederman

Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 01:29 p.m. HST, Dec 26, 2013


Rounding out a tough and frustrating year, President Barack Obama signed a bipartisan budget deal today 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 Friday. 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 today, 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 today, 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.

Obama signed the two bills and several others in private, without reporters present, after an early-morning workout a nearby Marine Corps base.

Associated Press writers Marco Garcia in Honolulu and Nedra Pickler in Washington contributed to this report.







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GWakai02 wrote:
Was one of the bills the Murray/Ryan bill?
on December 26,2013 | 11:09AM
GONEGOLFIN wrote:
It was my electric bill and the bill for my cleaners. Next he's going to sign my water bill if the Board of Water supply can decide on a biling process. Once all these bills are signed he can move on to my Visa bill which Target has found a way to get him involved, followed lastly by the bill I've got after eating out at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse-Thanks, Barry!
on December 26,2013 | 11:42AM
nodaddynotthebelt wrote:
Great to see you can go golfing, get your clothes cleaned by someone else and eat at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. Obviously you didn't vote for Obama. The rich gotta keep as much of their wealth as possible. Forget everybody else.
on December 26,2013 | 01:29PM
serious wrote:
Does he have stock in blue short sleeved shirts??? Maybe they were all Aloha shirts and Michelle washed them all together with blue dye???
on December 26,2013 | 11:54AM
NanakuliBoss wrote:
Really? Haters.,really?
on December 26,2013 | 01:03PM
Ronin006 wrote:
The Uniform Code of Military Justice has served the country well and I dare say much better than civil justice systems have served the civilian populace. It was a terrible mistake to carve out an exception for so-called sexual assault cases because military commanders allegedly mishandled one or two cases out of several hundred that were adjudicated. The female members of congress who pushed for this change expect every charge of sexual assault to result in a guilty verdict. It not only is an unrealistic expectation it is crazy. Why should an exception be made for sexual assault cases and not for more heinous crimes like murder, attempted murder and treason?
on December 26,2013 | 04:47PM
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