Political Victory Secured, Obama Heads Back to Hawaii

The president is to resume his vacation, which was cut short by Washington wrangling.

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President Barack Obama smiles as he arrives to make a statement regarding the passage of the fiscal cliff bill in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013.
President Barack Obama smiles as he arrives to make a statement regarding the passage of the fiscal cliff bill in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013.

President Obama is giving himself a belated Christmas gift after his victory on the budget: a trip back to Hawaii to resume the holiday that he cut short to forge a compromise on the fiscal cliff.

Resuming his vacation, despite a price tag for travel, security, and other costs that could exceed $3 million, is a measure of rising confidence at the White House that the president's fortunes are on the upswing and that the public is with him.

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The president badly needed a victory on the tax and spending deal to demonstrate his ability to bend Congress to his will and to get his second term started on a positive note. He can now build on the budget win after his inauguration later this month as he pushes for various other priorities, such as immigration reform and gun control. He will also need every ounce of momentum he can muster because his confrontations with congressional Republicans are expected to occur regularly in 2013 over the debt ceiling, taxes, deficit reduction, and other economic issues.

But Obama was riding high as he left Washington Tuesday night for his return trip to Hawaii. He started his family vacation there on December 21 but left five days later to return to the capital. He will rejoin his wife Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha, who stayed in Hawaii for the entire holiday period. They are expected to return to Washington this weekend.

After the key House vote Tuesday night, Obama said, "A central premise of my campaign for president was to change the tax code that was too skewed toward the wealthy at the expense of working, middle-class Americans. Tonight, we've done that." His advisers point out that most Americans support the way he has handled the budget issue, according to the polls.

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But not everyone was pleased with the latest compromise, which the House approved on a 257-167 vote after the Senate endorsed it, 89-8. The measure prevents a tax increase for 99 percent of taxpayers but allows taxes to go up for the wealthiest. It also delays automatic spending cuts for several weeks, guaranteeing another fight at that time.

Republicans were upset because the measure didn't cut spending nearly as much as they wanted, and they pledged to battle Obama and the Democrats more forcefully in the future. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell was among the conservatives who said the GOP will now make an all-out effort to cut spending. The Republicans control the House and the Democrats control the Senate, but the GOP still has considerable power to block and shape legislation in the Senate.

And Obama is under attack from the left for not going far enough in pushing for liberal goals such as even higher taxes on the rich. "This is an ugly deal," says Robert Borosage, codirector of the liberal Campaign for America's Future. "...Once more Republicans have learned that obstruction works, that the president will always blink" during a confrontation.

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In a public statement, Borosage argues that Obama had pledged never to sign any bill or agree to any deal that extended the current tax cuts, enacted under President George W. Bush, for households making more than $250,000 a year. But Obama "chose to compromise," Borosage says, allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for couples making more than $450,000, raising the number from $250,000. "The next extortion—the debt ceiling automatic sequester—in the next eight weeks makes this a big deal," Borosage argues. "The president says sensibly that he will not negotiate over lifting the debt ceiling. Period. And now there is even less reason for the Republicans to believe him than before. This encourages extreme demands rather than discouraging them. This was the time to draw the line."

Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes a 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 kwalsh@usnews.com, and followed on Facebook and Twitter.