WASHINGTON – The aborted Capitol Hill debate on military action against Syria put President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner in a rare place – on the same side. But each found himself sharply at odds with lawmakers of his own party.
This week, as Washington turns its attention to critical domestic issues, the turbulent political environment facing the nation’s leaders was put in sharp relief when opposition by Democratic lawmakers cost Obama his preferred candidate for chairman of the Federal Reserve, former economic adviser Lawrence Summers.
Obama and Boehner are facing questions about the strength of their leadership and whether they can avert a government shutdown or debt default that could significantly harm the economy.
Although a Russian diplomatic proposal – to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control – has reduced the urgency for a congressional vote authorizing military action, lawmakers say the leaders remain hampered by sharp partisan divisions and intraparty conflicts.
“It’s almost as though it was the end of traditional power,” Rep. James Moran, D-Va., a fierce Obama supporter, said of rank-and-file resistance to the president and the speaker. “I’ve been here for 20 years, and I’ve never seen so much of a repudiation of the conventional sources of power in the legislative or executive branch.”
The most pressing issue is forging an agreement to keep the government open past Sept. 30, when a funding measure expires. Boehner, R-Ohio, is struggling to gain the support of enough Republicans to endorse his budget strategy, the latest sign of the speaker’s weakened hold over his conference.
Obama has problems within his own party. On the domestic front, some House Democrats are questioning his decision not to take a harder line in the upcoming debate against the deep spending cuts known as sequestration.
With declining public support, the president also must fend off GOP attacks on his signature health-care law, the Affordable Care Act, as his administration prepares to launch a centerpiece of the effort, online insurance marketplaces, in just two weeks.