HONOLULU — Rounding out a tough and frustrating year, President Barack Obama signed a bipartisan budget deal Thursday easing spending cuts and a defense bill cracking down on sexual assault in the military, as the president and Congress began pivoting to the midterm election year ahead.
Obama put his signature on both hard-fought bills while vacationing in Hawaii, where he has been regrouping with his family since Saturday. The bill-signing marks one of Obama's last official acts in a year beset by a partial government shutdown, a near-default by the Treasury, a calamitous health care rollout and near-perpetual congressional gridlock.
Although the budget deal falls short of the grand bargain that Obama and congressional Republicans once aspired to, it ends the cycle of fiscal brinkmanship — for now — by preventing another shutdown for nearly two more years.
But the rare moment of comity may be short-lived. 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 U.S. default. Both sides are positioning behind customary hard-line positions.
The product of intensive talks before lawmakers 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, known as the sequester, by about one-third, restoring approximately $63 billion over two years.
A projected $85 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. Also included: a contentious provision to pare down annual cost-of-living increases in benefits for military retirees under age 62. Those cuts will save the government about $6.3 billion over a decade.
The comprehensive defense bill Obama signed will give military personnel a 1 percent pay raise. It also covers combat pay, ships, aircraft and bases. Lawmakers also gave Obama a rare victory in his fight to close Guantanamo Bay, by lifting the most rigid restrictions on transferring detainees overseas as part of the defense bill.
Obama signed the two bills and several others in private, without reporters present, after an early morning workout a nearby Marine Corps base. After signing the bills, Obama set off for a hike with his wife and daughters along a popular trail in Oahu leading to a 150-foot waterfall.