White House greets budget with caution, hope

Published 10:49 am Thursday, December 19, 2013

WASHINGTON — There were no champagne corks popping at the White House after Congress passed a two-year budget deal, no declarations of a new era of cooperation in President Barack Obama’s second term.

Instead, the modest agreement that passed Wednesday served as a stark year-end reminder of how low expectations for Washington sank in 2013, particularly for a president who hoped his resounding re-election would clear the way for progress on immigration, the long-term debt and tax reform.

The president’s advisers say they’re still searching for the larger meaning in the bipartisan budget deal, if there is one at all. At best, it could provide an opening for making progress next year on Obama’s stalled legislative agenda. It also could be a political play by Republicans to keep the focus on the disastrous rollout of Obama’s health care law and avoid another partial government shutdown like the one in October that tanked the party’s approval ratings.

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Or it could simply be an isolated move by lawmakers eager to head for the exits after a year that was perhaps even more dismal for Congress than for the president.

The president’s press secretary, Jay Carney, said administration officials were “not getting overexcited because we’re not naive about the obstruction that continues to exist and the partisanship that tends more often than not to paralyze Washington and Congress.”

Nine Republicans joined the Senate’s Democrats in passing the budget deal Wednesday and sending it to the White House for Obama’s signature. The GOP-led House approved the measure a week ago. The agreement is aimed at preventing another government shutdown for nearly two more years and eases the harshest effects of automatic budget cuts — known as the sequester — on the Pentagon and other domestic agencies. The pact was crafted by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state.