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Official business behind him, Obama looks to 2014


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HONOLULU (AP) - The last vestiges of 2013's political wrangling officially behind him, President Barack Obama is setting his sights on the coming year, when a number of unfinished tasks will increasingly compete for attention with the 2014 midterm elections.

Vacationing in Hawaii, Obama on Thursday signed into law a bipartisan budget deal softening the blow from scheduled spending cuts and a military bill cracking down on sexual assault. The two bills, passed by Congress with broad bipartisan support, constituted a modest step away from gridlock, and both parties cautiously hoped that spirit of cooperation might linger after New Year's Day.

"This law is proof that both parties can work together. We can put aside our differences and find common ground," House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who negotiated the budget deal for Republicans, said in a statement.

Easier said than done.

Already, familiar fault lines are emerging as Republicans and Democrats retrench for the next fiscal fight over raising the debt ceiling, which the Treasury says must be resolved by late February or early March. Despite the White House's insistence that Obama won't negotiate over that issue, Ryan has vowed the GOP will seek concessions before acquiescing.

Whether Obama and Republicans can resolve their differences without another default-threatening showdown may set the stage for other items on the agenda as Washington gears up for the midterm elections in November, when the entire House and one-third of the Senate will be on the ballot.

"There's a fresh year, but it's not as good as being re-elected. Obama is starting from a rough position, and the clock is already short," said Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian at Princeton University. "By June or July, most legislators are focused on getting re-elected, and it's very hard to get them to do anything at that point."

High on the agenda for the start of the year is a renewed push on immigration. Bipartisan consensus about the need for action on immigration in the wake of the 2012 presidential election gave way in 2013 to opposition from conservative House Republicans. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has started offering subtle signs he'll put more weight behind the issue despite continued resistance from the tea party.

In late January, Obama will give his fifth State of the Union address, setting his agenda for the final stretch before the midterms. As the end of this year approached, he cast a renewed focus on economic plans aimed at closing the income gap between rich and poor. The White House is pushing Congress to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless that expire this month and to raise the minimum wage.

Obama may also be hoping that as health care coverage provided through government exchanges kicks in Jan. 1, Republicans will find it more difficult to argue that the entire law should be repealed. The calamitous roll-out of the law this year became a major distraction for the White House and has provided fodder to Republican candidates heading into the midterms.

In Obama's suitcase as he left Washington last week was a set of recommendations from an advisory panel he appointed to review the National Security Agency's intelligence collection programs. The White House said Obama would be studying the recommendations during his vacation in Hawaii, and he's expected to announce next month which steps he plans to implement.

On the foreign policy front, Obama is keeping an eye on violence cropping up in South Sudan, Ukraine and the Central African Republic. His administration continues its efforts to strike a long-term nuclear deal with Iran and to forge an elusive peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.

And 2014 may provide a final chance for Obama to push to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, an effort that Congress has blocked through restrictions on transferring detainees. In a statement after he signed the defense bill Thursday, Obama praised Congress for removing some of those restrictions in the bill, but he called for further steps to lift constraints, including a ban on transferring detainees to the U.S. for imprisonment, trial or medical emergencies.

"I oppose these provisions, as I have in years past, and will continue to work with the Congress to remove these restrictions," Obama said, adding that some of the remaining restrictions, in some circumstances, "would violate constitutional separation of powers principles."

But as campaigning for House, Senate and governors' mansions kicks into high gear in 2014, Obama may find his efforts to focus attention on his priorities drowned out by the political posturing that reaches a fever pitch in Washington every other year.

"While the politics in Washington can be frustrating and change takes time, that's no excuse for inaction," Obama's senior adviser, Dan Pfeiffer, said in a note to the White House's email list. "There's a lot of unfinished business, but there are also things we can build on."

Regrouping with friends and family in Oahu, Obama has stayed largely out of the public eye since arriving on Air Force One last week. He attended a basketball tournament early in his stay and on Christmas visited with troops stationed in Hawaii, but residents here have otherwise had few opportunities to spot the visiting president.

One such opportunity came Thursday when Obama, shortly after signing the defense and budget bills in private, paid a surprise visit with his wife and daughters to a popular hiking trail in Oahu leading to a 150-foot waterfall. Caught off guard by the bomb-sniffing dogs that showed up at the usually serene locale, a few dozen hikers waited by the trail head, hoping to catch a glimpse of Obama's arrival.

The Obamas plan to remain in Hawaii through Jan. 5.

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tippy301 December 28 2013 at 11:59 PM

What would expect of the first &, to date, most "useful idiot" of the 21st century?

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msmarie423 December 28 2013 at 2:12 PM

yeah right! And we are supposed to believe you this time? Don't think so !!!!!!!

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cvaughn424 December 28 2013 at 4:09 AM

Only thing he's leaving behind is a healthcare system thats going to cost Americans millions in new taxes. A national debt of $17 trillion and RISING. A soon to be failing economy because of high food prices, utilities and gas prices. and because businesses continue to move jobs off shore and the tax base, which this country needs, is eroding away. Then you add his TAX and SPEND ideologies we are really in trouble.

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1 reply to cvaughn424's comment
tippy301 December 29 2013 at 12:00 AM

Try TRILLIONS.

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Perry December 28 2013 at 3:05 AM

As some of his Hawaiian classmates will admit.............he was a clown then and he is now as well.
He is a joke on the World's Stage and a failure as President to be sure. In spite of his election he
has little to be proud of and this Nation is not proud either.

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nupee December 28 2013 at 2:41 AM

Our fore fathers was great but they had one fatal flaw ei they that the right people would get elected. Could you imagine if that were true the president would be elected by the people from Ny NY MI CA Maybe FL TX and IL and the rest of us would have to accept it. This is why we have a senate and representative.

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tippy301 December 28 2013 at 12:41 AM

Mother of all insurance fraud & in his defence, he 'wasn't even in town'. Really !?

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antiqueanna December 28 2013 at 12:31 AM

Remember, obama sign the budget and you will find out what's in it. I believe Nancy Polosi used those same words about obamacare.

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timetojumpout December 28 2013 at 12:19 AM

Wait, wait, wait, his most important "business" - Take more multi-million dollar vacations that we pay for. Next - Pass amnesty for 50 million illegal aliens so they can help his cronies stay in office, Next - figure out more ways to screw the middle class out of more money and give to those that don't work, never have and won't have to. Hope you people like the change he has given us.

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pearlnestor1 December 28 2013 at 12:18 AM

Obama needs to be on vacation for the rest of his term, I think it's best, no matter how much it costs us!

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gottabewv December 28 2013 at 12:10 AM

Obama's goals for 2014: 1- Start new energy policy by creating enough hot air to heat the country! 2- Play at least 18 holes of golf on 26 courses he has never played before! 3- Convince Americans it is better to give congress and the senate a 15% raise while cutting Veterans benefits by 20%! 4- Find someone to blame for the failing “Non-affordable Healthcare” before it starts cutting into his profits! 5-Push the Muslim agenda into every household! 6- Convince all of America that Gay is OK! 7- Get at least 6 more family members fake birth certificates and make them citizens too! 8- Keep Hillary, Eric, and John out of jail so they can seek higher office! 9- Increase HS budget by 30% and focus on riot and crowd control weapons! 10- Practice on not calling the American people “Chumps” while the microphone is on?

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