Putting off a decision on military strikes on Syria allows President Obama to shift his attention back to a weighty domestic agenda for the fall that includes budget fights, immigration and selecting a new chairman of the Federal Reserve.
Among Obama’s most immediate challenges are two looming budget fights. By September 30, Congress and the president must agree on legislation to keep federal agencies funded or face a government shutdown.
Two weeks later, Congress must raise the limit on the country’s ability to borrow or risk a possible debt default that could cause chaos in financial markets.
On the first budget showdown, Obama may be at a strategic advantage because of divisions among opposition Republicans about whether to use the spending bill to provoke a fight over Obama’s signature health care law, known as Obamacare.
House Republican leaders are trying to rally the party around a temporary spending measure that would keep the government funded until December 15 but are facing resistance within their own caucus from some conservatives who want to cut off funding for Obamacare, even if it means a government shutdown.
Another challenge for Obama will be reviving momentum for immigration reform. Sweeping legislation that would grant a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants has passed the Democratic-led Senate but has been stalled in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Over the past week and half, lobbyists and other supporters of immigration reform have become worried that the Syria issue could doom the legislation in the House by limiting the amount of time lawmakers have to consider it.
Another pressing domestic matter will be picking a candidate to succeed Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, whose term expires in January. Obama has been leaning toward Lawrence Summers, a former top White House aide and Treasury secretary. Any candidate for Fed chairman will require confirmation by the Senate.
On issues like the budget battles in which Obama will go toe-to-toe with Republicans, Syria will have little fallout for Obama, predicted Matt Bennett, senior vice president at Third Way, a center-left think tank. Republicans showed a huge resistance to Obama’s agenda well before the administration’s effort to win congressional backing on Syria began to falter, Bennett noted. He said the time focused on Syria over the last week and half did nothing to change that dynamic.
“I certainly don’t think the situation he’s in today is markedly different from the one he faced a few weeks ago,” Bennett said.