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Washington Week

January 2, 2012 - 6:00pm

President Barack Obama's deputy press secretary, Josh Earnest, said over the weekend the following when referencing Congress in 2012: The president is no longer tied to Washington.

This reminds me of the familiar children's scene where you have two children playing in a sandbox and one of the children says they are taking their ball and going home! Only the sandbox is our legislative and executive branch of our federal government and the child throwing the tantrum is President Obama.

Our president thinks he can score political points with the electorate by ignoring or trashing Congress. After all, Congress's approval rating has hit an all-time low according to the latest Rasmussen Reports' national phone poll. They polled 1,000 likely voters on Dec. 27-28 and found that only 5 percent of them thought Congress was doing a good or excellent job.

Assuming Josh Earnest is correct and the president does plan on ignoring Congress for the second session of the 112th Congress, this won't be as easy as it sounds. You see, the president will be addressing Congress in the annual State of the Union address on Tuesday, Jan. 24. This is where he will come to the hall of the House of Representatives and speak to both the full Senate and House as well as the nation as a whole.

His nationally televised State of the Union address is predictably going to be full of positive indicators that our country is now heading on the right track. In order for him to make these statements, he will need to acknowledge Congress and give them some credit for passing his various proposals and ideas that brought this country out of the economic abyss.

However, if Mr. Earnest is correct and the president is planning on dissing Congress, giving Congress any credit or kudos will be difficult. If the president doesn't plan on making a statement about the uptick in our economy, then his supporters and advisers will presumably have a meltdown for missing the opportunity in this nationally televised address.

After the State of the Union address, the president will be faced with having to deal with the expiration of the Federal Aviation Administration. This is the agency that has been operating under 22 temporary stopgap funding bills since their yearlong authorization expired in 2007. The current funding bill expires Jan. 31. The last time it expired was last August when the agency endured a partial shutdown, which caused a slowdown in construction projects, the furloughing of 4,000 employees, as well as a temporary expiration of aviation taxes.

The Airport and Airway Trust Fund lost about $350 million over that period of time.Senate members had to reconvene their chamber after they had adjourned for the traditional August break to pass a quick legislative funding bill. At issue is an Obama administration-orchestrated national mediation board ruling that changed how airline industry union elections are calculated, thus allowing unions to organize the airlines.

This writer would guess that the unions will want the president to uphold the new ruling and therefore fight for it in the reauthorization bill that will expire a week after the State of the Union address. How can he fight for provisions in a bill if he is ignoring Congress?

Then there is the matter of the president's budget submission. By Feb. 6, the president will have to submit his budget to Congress. This is required under the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 and it specifies that the president submit a budget no later than the first Monday in February. The budget of the United States government is the president's proposal to the Congress and it recommends funding levels for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Usually, the congressional leaders from the president's party will tout the president's budget and use his budget priorities as an outline for their legislative agenda for the current session of Congress. This tradition could be hampered or crimped a bit if the president does, in fact, start to diss Congress.

Finally, by the end of February, Congress will have to re-address the payroll tax holiday bill and all that goes with that piece of legislation. This is the bill that extends for two months the unemployment benefits, corrects the doctors Medicare reimbursement rates as well as extending the payroll tax holiday. The president has been using the payroll tax issue as a cornerstone for his campaign speeches when he wants to emphasise his efforts to protect the "little guy." If the president has broken his ties to Congress, as suggested by his deputy press secretary, then achieving a good outcome for this piece of legislation might also become dicey.

I think it is fair to say that while the president might want to distance himself from Congress to win a popularity contest between himself and Congress, actually putting distance between him and Congress might be easier said than done.

Stay tuned to see how well this new game plan works out for our president in the next couple of months.

Elizabeth B. Letchworth is a retired, elected United States Senate secretary for the majority and minority. Currently she is a senior legislative adviser for Covington & Burling LLC and is the founder of

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