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In Hawaii, President Obama looks to 2014

HONOLULU--U.S. President Barack Obama, with the last vestiges of 2013's political wrangling officially behind him, is setting his sights on the coming year, when a bevy of unfinished tasks will increasingly compete for attention with the 2014 midterm elections.

Vacationing in Hawaii, Obama on Thursday signed into law a bipartisan budget deal softening the blow from scheduled spending cuts and a military bill cracking down on sexual assault. The two bills, passed by Congress with broad bipartisan support, constituted a modest step away from gridlock, and both parties cautiously hoped that sensibility might linger after New Year's Day.

“This law is proof that both parties can work together. We can put aside our differences and find common ground,” House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who negotiated the budget deal for Republicans, said in a statement.

Easier said than done.

Already, familiar fault lines are emerging as Republicans and Democrats retrench for the next fiscal fight over raising the debt ceiling, which the Treasury says must be resolved by late February or early March. Despite the White House's insistence that Obama won't negotiate over that issue, Ryan has vowed the Republican Party will seek concessions before acquiescing.

Whether Obama and Republicans can resolve their differences without another default-threatening showdown may set the stage for other items on the agenda as Washington gears up for the midterm elections in November, when the entire House and one-third of the Senate will be on the ballot.

“There's a fresh year, but it's not as good as being re-elected. Obama is starting from a rough position, and the clock is already short,” said Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian at Princeton University. “By June or July most legislators are focused on getting re-elected, and it's very hard to get them to do anything at that point.”

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 Obama signs bipartisan budget deal, defense bill 
U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama arrive to talk to members of the military and their families during a Christmas dinner in Anderson Hall at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii on Wednesday, Dec. 25.

(AFP)

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