Happy birthday, Mr. President?

House Democrats presented President Obama with a birthday cake during a meeting on Capitol Hill on July 31, 2013. Mr. Obama's birthday is Aug. 4.
House Democrats

It's President Obama's birthday; he'll cry if he wants to. And really, could you blame him?

Between a bucking-bronco Congress that left Washington on Friday for a five-week recess without resolving any big agenda items, and a series of mushrooming international crises testing the prudence (and patience) of the commander in chief, it's likely the president did not receive everything on his birthday wish list this year.

But he did get a cake from congressional Democrats this week. So that's something.

The president turns 52 on Sunday. After a round of golf Saturday morning, he left Washington for Camp David to celebrate his birthday at the presidential retreat in Maryland with the first family and close friends. On Sunday afternoon, he'll return to Washington and a familiar set of difficulties.

Immigration reform is stalled in the House, where its future will be determined in large part by conservative Republicans torn between their base and the party's national viability. The bill's fate, like much of Mr. Obama's second term agenda, is as uncertain as a coin toss.

The government could run out of money at the end of September, and a government shutdown looms if Democrats and Republicans can't bridge the budgetary divide.

Further complicating budget negotiations is the ongoing tug-of-war over the implementation of Obamacare. Some Republicans have pushed for a government shutdown to deprive the law of funding, but GOP veterans who remember the egg left on the party's face by the shutdown fights of the 1990s have warned their colleagues against taking the game of chicken too far.

And if domestic politics is giving the president a headache, he'll find scarce comfort abroad, between NSA leaker Edward Snowden in Russia, civil war in Syria, regime change in Egypt, and continued defiance from Iran and North Korea.

Meanwhile, an unspecified al Qaeda threat forced embassies across the Middle East and North Africa to close on Sunday, and some may remain closed into the next week.

All told, the president has no shortage of problems to juggle as he celebrates his birthday this year. As this is his fifth year in the White House, he's had plenty of practice balancing his birthday celebration against a job that never quits.

In 2009, the president began his 48th birthday - his first in the White House - meeting with advisers and Senate Democrats, before heading to Camp David for some bowling and basketball with friends and family, according to the White House press office. He was even treated to a greeting from then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who called Mr. Obama to wish him well on his birthday and discuss bilateral relations between the U.S. and Russia.

At the time, Mr. Obama was seeking to build on his term's early victories by pushing Congress to pass a health care reform package. His brief birthday retreat proved to be the calm before the storm. Throughout the remainder of August, as Congress was in recess, lawmakers faced raucous town-hall protests from conservatives opposed to Democrats' health care reform proposals. The spectacle of angry constituents yelling at lawmakers proved to be an early indicator of the passionate conservative opposition to what became known as Obamacare.

By the time of the president's 49th birthday in 2010, the health care bill had been signed, but it had emerged as a major liability for Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections. Mr. Obama began his birthday that year in Washington, addressing AFL-CIO leaders and meeting with the leader of Senate Republicans before departing Washington for Chicago. Then-White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president was "looking forward to spending the night in his house for a change." With Michelle and his daughters on vacation, the president enjoyed a low-key celebration, dining in Chicago with close friends, including Oprah Winfrey.

The next day, the president attended a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in Chicago before returning to Washington. Despite the president's fundraising efforts, roughly three months later, the Democrats, by Mr. Obama's own estimation, endured a "shellacking" at the ballot box when Republicans won 63 seats to claim the House of Representatives.

In 2011, the president was fresh off a bruising fight over the debt ceiling when he turned 50. The big day was marked not by an intimate dinner but by a blow-out party. The president opened the White House for a barbeque bash, inviting friends, advisers, Cabinet members, congressmen, and a host of celebrities, including rapper Jay Z, comedian Chris Rock, and actor Tom Hanks.

Of course, it wasn't all fun and games - the day before, the president was in Chicago for a series of fundraisers. The 2012 presidential race was already gathering steam, a fact further underscored when Mr. Obama's eventual Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, released a scorching ad ahead of the president's trip to Chicago, slamming his handling of the economy and declaring, "Obama isn't working."

By the time Mr. Obama turned 51 in August 2012, the presidential race was at fever pitch. Romney had locked up the Republican nomination and was already hammering the president, which Mr. Obama repaid in kind. Both parties were preparing for their upcoming conventions and fundraising at a breakneck pace. After his birthday weekend, the president returned to the campaign trail the next week, fundraising in Connecticut on Monday and staging events in Colorado on Wednesay and Thursday.

President Barack Obama shoots clay targets on the range at Camp David, Md., Saturday, Aug. 4, 2012.
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

The weekend itself, though, provided brief respite from the campaign trail, with a round of golf and a quiet celebration at Camp David. While he was relaxing at the secluded retreat, he found time to shoot some skeet, but even that seemingly innocuous activity could not pass without controversy in Washington. The next year, when the White House released a photo of the president shooting skeet on that day, conservatives accused the president of propagandizing in an effort to push gun restrictions through Congress.