President Barack Obama returns to Washington on Sunday after a brief summer vacation readying for what is expected to be a rocky autumn dominated by showdowns with Republicans.
Obama interrupted an eight-day break at exclusive Martha’s Vineyard last week to denounce the bloody crackdown in Cairo by Egypt’s military.
But the turmoil there, and the upcoming G20 summit in Russia early next month, are poised to take a backseat to the domestic agenda with Republicans threatening a government shutdown in October over the budget and debt ceiling.
Republicans hold a majority in the House of Representatives and retain a big enough minority in the Senate to potentially block any budget put before them before the start of the new fiscal year on October 1.
Without an agreement, the federal government could potentially be forced to shutter ‘non-essential’ administrative services such as passport and visa processing.
Since regaining control of the House in 2011, Republicans have repeatedly threatened a shutdown in confrontations with Obama before pulling back from the brink at the last minute.
This year however, a hardcore of Republicans have promised there will be no climbdown as they attempt to stymie implementation of a major part of Obama’s cherished healthcare reforms, which is due to take effect.
Americans without health insurance can begin to register for markets in each state which will be subsidised by the federal government from October 1. However some hardline Republicans, who have held 40 symbolic votes to repeal Obama’s healthcare legislation, have vowed to block any budget which provides funding for the scheme.
Thomas Mann, a Congressional scholar, at the Brookings Institution said the Republicans would be making a disastrous strategic move if they pursued a government shutdown.
“The Republicans have as much leverage as a suicide bomber,” he told AFP.
“If they are willing to see their party damaged possibly beyond repair, they could inflict real harm on the country.
“I am encouraged by the increasing number of Republican voices calling the Tea Party strategy crazy and suicidal.”
Obama, who will conduct a whistle-stop bus tour on Thursday and Friday to outline his vision for the economy, warned against a shutdown.
“The idea that you would shut down the government unless you prevent 30 million people from getting health care is a bad idea,” Obama said during a press conference on August 9.
“What you should be thinking about is how can we advance and improve ways for middle-class families to have some security so that if they work hard, they can get ahead and their kids can get ahead.”
Obama wants to scrap tax breaks for the wealthy and reform the corporate tax code while investing in infrastructure and education, measures the Republicans are opposed to.
The chronic failure of both sides to find common ground on taxes already led to the budget sequester in March which forced spending cuts to a range of federal programs.
The threat of fiscal crisis has also been heightened by the need to raise the debt ceiling, another prerogative of Congress which the Republicans are in a position to block. The Treasury has warned they will run out of options to prevent a default by mid-October.
The Republican’s House leader John Boehner has said any increase in the debt ceiling must be matched by spending cuts, repeating his stance from a similar stand-off in 2011 when the United States only narrowly avoided a default.
Obama meanwhile is yet to chalk up a success on his legislative agenda in the eight months of his second term.
The White House however hopes the House of Representatives will follow the Senate by approving proposed immigration reform this autumn.
Again however, a faction of Republican lawmakers, eyes already fixed on the November next year mid-term elections, have spoken out against Obama’s proposed reforms, alleging they represent an “amnesty” for illegal immigrants.
“It’s a long shot on immigration reform but not impossible,” said Mann. “If immigration reform fails to pass, the Republicans, not Obama, will pay the political price in 2016 and beyond.”