Sunday 25 March 2018

President Obama signs budget deal

President Barack Obama, pictured speaking to members of the military while on holiday in Hawaii, has signed a budget deal.
President Barack Obama, pictured speaking to members of the military while on holiday in Hawaii, has signed a budget deal.

President Barack Obama signed a budget deal easing spending cuts and a defence bill cracking down on sexual assault in the military.

His signature yesterday marked a modest end to a challenging year for the White House and Congress.

Mr Obama is on holiday in Hawaii where he has been laying low since Saturday as he regroups for the midterm election year ahead.

T he bill signing marks one of the president's last official acts in a year beset by a partial government shutdown, a near-default by the Treasury, a calamitous health care roll-out and near-perpetual congressional gridlock.

Although the budget deal falls short of the grand bargain that Mr Obama and congressional Republicans once aspired to, it ends the cycle of brinkmanship - for now - by preventing another shutdown for nearly two more years.

But hanging over the start of the year is a renewed fight over raising the nation's borrowing limit, which the Treasury says must be resolved by late February or early March to avert an unprecedented US default.

Both sides are positioning behind customary hard line positions, with Republicans insisting they want concessions before raising the debt limit and Mr Obama insisting he will not negotiate.

With the last of 2013's legislative wrangling behind him, the president's attention turns now to major challenges and potential bright spots in the year ahead.

Late next month Mr Obama will give his fifth State of the Union address, setting his agenda for the final stretch before the 2014 midterm elections render him less able to focus Washington's attention on his own priorities.

He signed the two bills and several others in private, without reporters present, after an early-morning trip to the gym at the Marine Corps base near his rented holiday home in Oahu.

The product of intensive talks before politicians left Washington for Christmas, the budget deal alleviates the harshest effects of automatic budget cuts on the Pentagon and domestic agencies.

It reduces those cuts by about one-third, restoring approximately 63 billion dollars (£38 billion) over two years.

A projected 85 billion dollars (£52 billion) in savings are located elsewhere in the deal, including increases in an airport security tax and a fee corporations pay to have pensions guaranteed by the government.

The defence bill Mr Obama signed will give military personnel a 1% pay rise and also covers combat pay, ships, aircraft and bases.

But it was a year-long campaign led by the women of the Senate to address the scourge of rape and sexual assault in the military that dominated congressional debate over the military bill.

Commanders will no longer be permitted to overturn jury convictions for sexual assault, which the Pentagon estimates may have affected 26,000 members of the military last year.

The law also requires a civilian review when commanders decline to prosecute, requires dishonourable discharge or dismissal for those convicted, eliminate the statute of limitations for courts-martial in rape and sexual assault cases and criminalises retaliation against victims who report an assault.


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