WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama returns from vacation Tuesday to face legislative battles with newly empowered Republicans determined to slash spending and repeal his health-care reform, a key legislative achievement.
The Congress convenes Wednesday with Republicans back in charge in the House of Representatives and their numbers — while still a minority — significantly increased in the Senate.
With the damaged economy, unemployment and the national debt uppermost among American concerns, Republicans have vowed to shrink government and ease federal oversight of the private sector. That, they argue, will unshackle private business to heal the wounds from the worst economic downturn since the 1930s Great Depression.
Obama and most Democrats counter that regulation is more necessary now than ever, especially after the private financial sector — using untested investment tools — nearly brought down the economy in the fall of 2008. And Obama and his fellow Democrats fought too long and too hard for health-care reform to shirk even the smallest fight on that issue.
Obama has also said, a contraction of government spending could undo gains that have been made over the last 18 months.
The health-care fight is likely to come first, with House Republicans planning a vote on repeal before Obama’s State of the Union address at the end of the month.
Though full repeal is a long shot — the House vote would be just the first, easiest step — they’ll follow up with dozens of attempts to hack away at pieces of what they derisively call “Obamacare.”
The strategy is not risk-free for the Republicans, who won’t have a replacement plan of their own ready by the time of the repeal vote. But they say there’s no time to lose.
Senate Democratic leaders marked out their own territory in a letter Monday to House Speaker-to-be John Boehner, serving notice they will block any repeal.
All the while, the Obama administration intends to keep putting into place the law’s framework for covering more than 30 million uninsured people. Ultimately, Obama still has his veto pen, and Republicans aren’t anywhere close to the two-thirds majorities needed to override.
On spending more broadly, conservative Republicans, including many newly elected members of Congress, want cuts imposed immediately. A first test comes when lawmakers have to pass a massive spending bill to keep the government running.
Another critical juncture could come as early as March, when Congress votes on whether to raise the debt ceiling. Some Republican lawmakers, including South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, have said they won’t vote to raise the debt limit unless there is a plan in place for dealing with long-term obligations, such as Social Security.