Sun | Feb 19, 2017

Obama tests power against Republican-run Congress

Published:Tuesday | January 6, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Barack Obama ... has engineered a major shift in US policy. - File
This November 2, 2010, file photo shows Kentucky Senator-elect Rand Paul as he waves to the crowd after addressing supporters. - File
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WASHINGTON (AP):

President Barack Obama this week will test whether he still has the power to keep Washington focused on his own goals, even as a new Republican-run Congress is eager to take him on.

Obama has already begun preparing for his annual State of the Union address to Congress on January 20 - the agenda-setting speech that is his best chance to set the agenda for 2015 on his own terms. Obama, fresh off a two-week Hawaii vacation, will roll out new executive steps and proposals for Congress this week on home ownership, higher education, and manufacturing jobs - a similar menu to the one he has offered in the past.

Republicans, emboldened by their sweeping victories in the November elections, have a different plan. After expanding their majority in the House of Representatives and winning control of the Senate, giving them full control of Congress for the first time of Obama's presidency, Republicans look forward to an all-out offensive against Obama's policies.

Congress reconvenes after a series of high-profile presidential moves in the last six weeks of the year energised Obama - and infuriated Republicans.

Fighting changes

Republicans return to Washington ready to upend the president's policies, including his five-year-old health-care law, his recent immigration actions sparing millions from deportation, and environment and business regulations, though they say they can still cooperate on issues like trade.

Obama's move to normalise relations with Cuba after a half-century of Cold War animosity roiled Congress. Republicans are divided over whether to push back and face pressure from businesses, ranging from hospitality to agriculture, to give them a chance to explore the untapped Cuban market.

Obama's bold actions indicate he is still relevant heading into the final two years of his presidency, and he has said he intends to carry that momentum into 2015. No matter what the Republican Congress passes, Obama retains the power to veto legislation, an action he has taken only twice in six years.

Just as lawmakers arrive in Washington this week, with the new Congress seating Tuesday, Obama is going out of town. He plans to spend most of the week in Michigan, Arizona, and Tennessee showcasing how his own economic policies are fueling the economic recovery.

In Detroit on Wednesday, Obama plans to promote the return of manufacturing jobs and his decision to bail out the auto industry. In Phoenix the next day, Obama is to showcase gains in the housing sector since the real estate crash and unveil new steps to help Americans buy a home, the White House said.

Both Democrats and Republicans have cited a few topics as opportunities for compromise - like trade, tax reform, and infrastructure.

"There are a number of issues we could make progress on, but the president is clear that he will not let this Congress undo important protections gained - particularly in areas of health care, Wall Street reform, and the environment," said Eric Schultz, Obama's spokesman.

Senator Bob Corker said Republicans would still do business with Obama on issues like taxes and trade promotion despite their irritation at his unilateral action.

"Look, obviously we have not liked the executive actions that especially were taken" after the November midterms, Corker said on Fox. "But we understand with humility, we've got a lot of serious issues that need to be addressed. The bigger issues absolutely require the president to be involved."

House majority

Republicans, who will have their largest majority in the House in 84 years, are determined to cut spending and rein in the reach of the federal government.

Several Republicans, unnerved by the prospect of a negotiated deal with Iran over its nuclear programme, plan a pre-emptive strike of tough new sanctions on Tehran, with some Democratic help.

The politics of the 2016 presidential race are likely to creep into the new Congress. Republicans weighing a presidential bid such as Kentucky's Rand Paul, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Florida's Marco Rubio will pursue opportunities to show their conservative creed to core primary and caucus voters.