President Obama is planning to cut short his Hawaii vacation and leave for Washington Wednesday night in an effort to kick-start budget negotiations that have stalled over tax hikes for the rich and spending priorities.
Obama left for Hawaii last Friday with his wife Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha, but his aides say he decided to head back to the White House early because Congress is returning to duty Thursday after its own holiday break. Obama hopes all sides can find a compromise that will avoid the "fiscal cliff" of automatic tax increases and deep spending cuts scheduled to start taking effect on January 1. Economists say allowing this to happen could thrown the nation back into recession.
White House advisers say the president might accept a scaled-down budget package to get the government past the fiscal cliff, but he is still apparently insisting on higher taxes for the wealthy, an idea opposed by many Republicans. White House advisers say Obama might also accept reductions in some entitlement programs, such as Social Security, a proposal which is opposed by many Democrats.
Complicating the situation, just before the holiday break, House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, failed to get enough House Republicans to support his own version of a budget bill that called for tax hikes on millionaires. Acknowledging the lack of support, Boehner declined to allow a vote on the measure. So it's unclear how much Boehner will be able to negotiate on behalf of his GOP colleagues in the future.
The outcome of the budget battle may now hinge on the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats and which could conceivably break the logjam with a budget bill of its own.
Obama's wife and children will stay for several more days in Hawaii, where the president was born and where he has vacationed for many years. For the past few days, he followed his usual pattern of spending time privately with his family and friends, relaxing on the beach, and playing golf, and visiting U.S. military personnel on Christmas Day.
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Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and followed on Facebook and Twitter.