Obama Home from the Holidays: Hard New Year’s Nights Ahead

Photograph by Gerald Herbert/AP Photo

President Barack Obama greets people as he visits Island Snow for shave ice in Kailua, Hawaii, during his holiday vacation, on Jan 3, 2013.

President Barack Obama returns to Washington today from his annual family vacation in Hawaii for a week expected to include Cabinet nominations, a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and preparations for a second-term inauguration.

Obama is scheduled to return to the White House before noon. Before his departure last night from Honolulu, the president also was gearing up for a political fight next month with Republicans over raising the U.S. debt limit. In his weekly radio address, which was taped from Hawaii and aired yesterday, the president reiterated a warning that he will not negotiate with Republicans over borrowing authority.

Former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, 66, is expected to be named as soon as tomorrow as Obama’s choice to be the nation’s next defense secretary, according to a person familiar with the cabinet-selection process.

The president is to meet with Karzai on Jan. 11. As the U.S. war in Afghanistan winds down, Karzai is visiting Washington to discuss concerns including the size of U.S. troop levels in his country after 2014 and the future U.S. financial commitment.

Obama has yet to name a new head of the Central Intelligence Agency. John Brennan, the president’s counterterrorism chief, is said to be among the leading candidates. Other pending announcements include a replacement for Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, and may include a new chief of staff if Jack Lew is named as Geithner’s replacement.

In December, the president announced his choice of Massachusetts Senator John Kerry to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.

Obama originally was set to spend two weeks in Hawaii, where he was born and raised, to recharge following his re- election campaign and work on the Jan. 21 address he is to deliver for his second-term inauguration.

That plan was interrupted when the congressional standoff over how to prevent automatic tax hikes and spending cuts from going into effect beginning Jan. 1 forced him to cut short his trip on Dec. 26. Obama, who arrived in Hawaii on Dec. 22, to returned to Washington and then, after Congress passed a budget deal late Jan. 1, flew back to Hawaii for another four days.

During the second part of his Hawaii trip, Obama took his daughters bowling, ate shave ice with his daughters, golfed, and dined out with his wife and friends.

Obama on Jan. 2 signed the law raising income-tax rates on couples to 39.6 percent for annual income above $450,000 while extending tax cuts for lower incomes and delaying automatic spending cuts until March 1.

Markets rallied in response to the agreement, even as Obama and congressional Republicans are poised for a new fight over the U.S. government’s debt ceiling.

The U.S. reached its $16.4 trillion legal debt limit on Dec. 31, and the Treasury Department began using extraordinary measures to finance the government. It will exhaust that avenue as early as mid-February, the Congressional Budget Office says.

In the radio address, Obama said, “One thing I will not compromise over is whether or not Congress should pay the tab for a bill they’ve already racked up.

“If Congress refuses to give the United States the ability to pay its bills on time, the consequences for the entire global economy could be catastrophic.”

Obama said rich Americans and companies should pay more taxes beyond the fiscal cliff accord as part of a balanced approach with spending cuts.

“The last time Congress threatened this course of action, our entire economy suffered for it,” the president said in the address from Hawaii.





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