President Obama will try to replicate the success of his budget strategy by using his bully pulpit to isolate House Republicans as out of step with the country, and working with the more pragmatic Senate to generate momentum for his priorities in the new year.
Obama has already begun framing the debate on raising the debt ceiling, which is emerging as the next economic battleground. He says failure to extend the current federal borrowing limit by late February would be a calamity, and he pledged not to negotiate over it. "I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills that they've already racked up through the laws that they passed," Obama says. "Let me repeat: We can't not pay bills that we've already incurred. If Congress refuses to give the United States government the ability to pay these bills on time, the consequences for the entire global economy would be catastrophic."
Many Republican leaders, meanwhile, see a major fight over the debt ceiling as a way to pressure Obama into accepting deep spending cuts to reduce the deficit. "He can either engage now to significantly cut government spending or force a crisis later," says Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
But former House Speaker Newt Gingrich warns that confronting Obama on the debt ceiling will be harmful to the GOP. "They've got to find, in the House, a totally new strategy," Gingrich told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Friday. "Everybody's now talking about, 'Oh, here comes the debt celing.' I think that's, frankly, a dead loser. because in the end you know it's gonna happen: The whole national financial system is going to come in to Washington and on television and say, 'Oh my God, this will be a gigantic heart attack. The entire economy of the world will collapse.' [Republicans] will be held responsible and they'll cave."
Beyond the debt limit, one of Obama's first obectives this year will be to push for gun control. Vice President Joe Biden is in charge of an administration task force to develop gun-control legislation, and early signs are that many Republicans, especially more pragmatic legislators in the Senate, might accept some form of this legislation in the wake of public outrage over the recent massacre of school children in Connecticut. Obama is expected to announce his plan within two weeks, based on Biden's recommendations. Biden is also expected to use his many contacts to push the legislation in the Senate, where he served for many years representing Delaware.
Meanwhile, Democratic Reps. Carolyn McCarthy of New York and Diana DeGette of Colorado plan to push again for their legislation to ban high-capacity ammunition magazines and to prohibit the sale of ammunition online. Other gun-control legislation is also expected.
Obama used the two-phase strategy--isolating the House Republicans and using the Senate to generate momentum--in the negotiations over the "fiscal cliff." Those talks ended this week with Congress passing legislation to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans and extend unemployment benefits, but delaying action on spending cuts. The compromse was considered at least a temporary victory for Obama.
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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.