GOP prepares to challenge Obama on unilateral action, debt ceiling

President Barack Obama, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, gestures during the State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday Feb. 12, 2013. CHARLES DHARAPAK/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama seems headed for months of clashes with congressional Republicans after having pledged to work around Congress to accomplish his goals in 2014. Currently, he seeks an unconditional increase in the debt ceiling – something Republicans have already said they are unwilling to give him.

On Sunday, two of the president’s top aides fanned out across the Sunday shows to reiterate the president’s recent pledge that he will try to work with Congress, but will also look for opportunities to use his executive authority to carry out his agenda when lawmakers will not.

“I think what we saw last year in 2013 was a Washington that did not deliver for the American people. And the president sees this as a year of action to work with Congress where he can and to bypass Congress where necessary, to lift folks who want to come up into the middle class,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday.

Senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that this approach isn’t “confrontational” and said he hoped Congress would work with the president to pass immigration reform and extend unemployment benefits, which expired on Dec. 28. But, he said, the president “is not going to tell the American people that he’s going to wait for Congress,” and will find ways to move forward on job training, education and manufacturing that don’t require Congressional approval.

Republicans aren’t taking too kindly to Mr. Obama’s promise. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said it sounds “vaguely like a threat.”

“I think it also has a certain amount of arrogance in the sense that one of the fundamental principles of our country were the checks and balances that it wasn't supposed to be easy to pass legislation. You had to debate and convince people,” Paul said.

As for whether Congress makes it hard for him to accomplish things?

“Welcome to the real world,” Paul said. “It's hard to convince people to get legislation through. It takes consensus. But that's what he needs to be doing, is building consensus and not taking his pen and creating law.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested the president approve the Keystone XL pipeline or work on more trade deals – items Republicans would prefer. “We’re anxious to help him create jobs. But we’re not going to go over and endorse more spending, more debt, more taxes and more regulation,” McConnell said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Even if the president were to spend his entire State of the Union address reaching out to Republicans, that will likely be of little help to him in February when Congress must raise the debt ceiling or risk a default on U.S. credit. The GOP looks ready to “attach something significant for the country,” to a debt limit increase such as an approval of the pipeline, McConnell said.

“Any president's request to raise the debt ceiling, whether this one or previous presidents, is a good opportunity to try to do something about the debt. I think the president is taking an unreasonable position to suggest that we ought to treat his request to raise the debt ceiling like some kind of motherhood resolution that everybody says 'aye,' and we don't do anything, when we have the stagnant economy and this massive debt created under his administration,” McConnell said.

What Republicans see as a good opportunity to do something for the country, Democrats view as a “ransom” in exchange for Congress doing its basic duties, Pfeiffer said in a separate appearance on “Fox News Sunday.”

“They have passed what is essentially a debt limit free of ideological riders the last two times. They should do it again and spare the country the drama and economic damage of repeating the move no one wants to see from October,” Pfeiffer said.

 Democrats have argued that the backlash against Republican efforts to defund Obamacare, which led to a shutdown of the federal government last October, will have convinced them to stay away from seeking leverage from a crisis once again.

 

“I do not believe that Republican leaders will follow Ted Cruz over the cliff once again. I believe we will pass a clean debt ceiling that makes sense.  We don't want to risk the full faith and credit.  We can debate all these other issues at a different time and place.  But I think they learned their lesson with the government shutdown,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “Not only did Tea Party ratings plummet, but so did Republican Party ratings.”

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said that an unconditional debt-limit increase simply won’t pass the House.

Pfeiffer shied away from specifying whether the president would veto any measure that had non-debt ceiling policies attached.

“I'm saying that we're doing it the exact same way we've done this one before, which is, we were not going to pay them ransom,” he said. “Nothing has changed in our position.”

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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