by Susan Davis, USA Today
WASHINGTON — President Obama put Congress on notice Tuesday night that he is poised to act without their help, but congressional Republicans countered that a president can go only so far without the legislative branch, even one as unpopular as this.
"Under our Constitution, the Congress makes the laws, and the president executes them. If he tries to ignore that, he will run into a brick wall," warned House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Tuesday regarding Obama's State of the Union pledge to use presidential authority to advance policy goals — such as raising the minimum wage — that have floundered in a divided, unproductive Congress.
"I think executive actions are like writing on a beach. It may look good for a while but the tide comes in and the tide goes out. The things that matter are legislative accomplishments," said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla.
Cole said he was optimistic that Congress can produce more legislation this year than the White House anticipates. He cited the two-year budget agreement already enacted this month, a farm bill poised for passage after a two year debate, as well as bipartisan efforts to reform national intelligence programs and an energy bill as possibilities for 2014.
"Congress can do a lot if it operates the way it has in the last 60 days," he said.
House Republicans will retreat from the Capitol today for the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where they will use their private three-day annual retreat to hone strategies for what could be another confrontational year with the Obama administration ahead of November's midterm elections.
Republicans plan to use the retreat to discuss how the party will approach contentious immigration legislation. Leaders of the House of Representatives are likely to release legislative principles on an immigration overhaul this week. The Democratic-controlled Senate approved a sweeping immigration bill last year, but the GOP-led House has yet to act.
The issue could expose deep divides within the GOP, where there is a faction in favor of doing nothing at all. "The best course of action is to say 'We're not taking up immigration, we can't trust the president' and both of those things would be easily defensible," said Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, one of the chamber's most vocal opponents to legislation that could create a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Republicans are also hoping to extract concessions from Democrats in exchange for their support on an impending February vote to raise the debt limit — the nation's borrowing authority. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew says the nation will hit the ceiling no later than the end of next month if lawmakers don't act.
Obama reiterated Tuesday that he will not negotiate over raising the debt limit, and congressional Democrats said they will offer no concessions on the president's health care law. which Republicans still want to dismantle. "They should get a new tune to sing to," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Senate Democrats also intend to vote on legislation to raise the minimum wage — another topic Obama addressed Tuesday — but it is likely to fail in the House.
However, congressional Democrats offered unfettered support for Obama's decision to focus on executive authority to advance his goals. "The American people deserve better governance for their tax dollars than what they got in 2013, which is why I am glad the president will use executive orders where Congress does not act," said Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif.