WASHINGTON – The government shutdown behind him, President Barack Obama focused Thursday on a new, trimmed down agenda by challenging Congress to overcome bitter partisan division and pass a budget and a farm bill and overhaul immigration.
The president said getting through those three priorities would help Washington move beyond "the cloud of crisis" created by the 16-day partial shuttering of government operations. But he acknowledge the political reality that even passing such a slimmed-down agenda by the end of the year will be tough.
"To all my friends in Congress, understand that how business is done in this town has to change because we've all got a lot of work to do on behalf of the American people, and that includes the hard work of regaining their trust," Obama said from the White House, the morning after signing a painfully forged bipartisan deal to reopen the government and avert a default.
Obama has slashed his wish list from earlier this year, when he called for legislation to address climate change, an increase in the minimum wage, gun control and the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison. The reduced priorities underscore how difficult it has been to get legislation through Congress, the short legislative calendar left this year and Obama's limited political capital.
Prospects for passage of an immigration bill appear particularly dim. A bill passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate and backed by the White House includes billions for border security and a path to citizenship for those already living in the U.S. illegally, but most House Republicans have rejected the approach.
Likewise, the roughly $500 billion farm bill has been held up over a dispute between the two chambers, this time over food stamps. The House has endorsed up to $4 billion in annual cuts to the almost $80 billion-a-year Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, while the Senate farm bill would cut only $400 million a year. The White House has threatened to veto the House bill.
Obama did not mention the rift over food stamps but said the House should accept the Senate version of the bill. "Let's negotiate. What are we waiting for? Let's get this done," Obama said.
The president said the first focus should be on reaching a budget agreement that lowers deficits, invests in education and infrastructure, cuts spending and closes corporate loopholes. Congressional negotiators were starting to discuss that issue Thursday.