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AFTER SWEARING-IN, BACK TO THE DEBT

FILE - Barack Obamleft joined by his wife Michelle takes oath office from Chief Justice John Roberts become 44th president

FILE - Barack Obama, left, joined by his wife Michelle, takes the oath of office from Chief Justice John Roberts to become the 44th president of the United States at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., in this Jan. 20, 2009 file photo. Obama is putting a symbolic twist on a time-honored tradition, taking the oath of office for his second term with his hand placed not on a single Bible, but two, one owned by Martin Luther King Jr. and one by Abraham Lincoln. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

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Updated: February 21, 2013 6:59AM



WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is officially sworn in to his second term Sunday — the Monday celebration is a re-enactment — and after the festivities are over, his second term starts where the first term ended: With Republicans trying to leverage the looming debt ceiling to their advantage.

On Friday, House Republicans offered to lift the debt ceiling for three months but the deal had a few catches: Senate Democrats had to pass a budget and if they did not, lawmakers in both chambers would not be paid.

Democrats control the Senate and they have not approved a budget in four years.

Or as Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) dramatically put it in the GOP Saturday address, it’s been 1,361 days without a Senate budget to be exact. The GOP controls the House — where budgets have been passed the past two years — but only on the strength of GOP votes, so the spending plan had no chance in the Senate.

Moreover, the seemingly gracious GOP gesture to delay another fight over spending and possibly avert a fiscal crisis right away also conveniently kicks the can down the road to a time where Republicans hope to have even more advantage.

In a few weeks, Obama is supposed to propose a new budget. Added to that: the New Year’s Eve deal that avoided the fiscal cliff left a lot of unfinished business, putting off for two months $1.2 trillion across-the-board automatic spending cuts (sometimes called the “sequester”) unless Congress and Obama act.

Obama has been pushing very hard for a long-term lifting of the debt ceiling — or in the alternative, stripping Congress of the chore. Republicans declined both offers.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Friday, “I think the president made clear the other day that he would happily take on the responsibility himself if Congress can’t handle it. So the fact is, Congress should simply extend the debt ceiling, and do so in a manner that causes no concern to the economy and to global markets, that does not in any way suggest that Washington is about to engage in another process that results in a self-inflicted wound to the economy.”

The debt limit could be reached as early as late February or early March. A three-month reprieve gives Obama breathing room to move on to other issues — most centrally prodding Congress on gun violence and immigration, major second-term agenda items.

“With the swearing-in of a new Congress and the inauguration of President Obama, this is an opportunity for a fresh start,” Lankford said.

“But because government debt really does affect all of us, Republicans will NOT simply provide a blank check for uncontrolled spending, irrational borrowing and constant nickel and dime tax increases.”

The GOP-run House could vote on the three-month plan this week. Their aim to gain an upper hand by switching around the time table tells us this: Republicans believe they do better with the public hardlining spending and budget issues than with messing with worldwide financial markets over the debt ceiling.

FOOTNOTE: Obama is sworn in by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. at 10:55 a.m. Chicago time Sunday at a small White House ceremony.

The Sunday swearing-in will be televised live on most networks and news outlets.

The 20th Amendment to the Constitution starts presidential terms Jan. 20.

By tradition, public inaugurations are not held when Jan. 20 falls on a Sunday. The massive public ceremony on the west steps of the Capitol takes place Monday, when Beyonce sings the national anthem.



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