From just off the sandy beaches of Oahu's eastern shore, President Obama took a break from his Hawaiian vacation to sign a slew of year-end bills, including a two-year budget deal and a defense bill that begins to revamp the way the military deals with sexual assaults and how terror detainees at Guantanamo Bay are handled.
The budget bill wasn't exactly the "Grand Bargain" sought by Obama and Republicans, but it staves off, at least for now, the threat of another government shutdown. It eliminates about $65 billion in sequester cuts while preserving entitlement programs and maintaining existing tax rates. The measure does not extend unemployment insurance, which expires at the end of the month, and it cuts benefits for military retirees by reducing the cost-of-living adjustment.
The White House has said the budget deal "would allow for critical investments in areas such as education, infrastructure, and scientific research, while keeping the nation on the path to long-term deficit reduction … and includes targeted fee increases and spending cuts designed in a way that does not hurt the nation's economy or the federal government's commitments to seniors."
Many high-profile Republicans opposed the budget deal, including their leaders in the Senate and several conservative 2016 hopefuls such as Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
In signing the defense bill, Obama sets in motion new policies that change the way the military investigates and prosecutes cases of sexual assault. Among other things, it prohibits commanders from overturning jury trial verdicts, makes it a crime to retaliate against victims who report assaults and it eliminates the statue of limitations on rape and sexual assault for courts-martial.
The defense bill also makes it easier, in some instances, for the Obama administration to move terror detainees at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to other nations willing to accept them. But Obama takes issue with some provisions that he says hinder the government's ability to bring some detainees to the United States to stand trial.
"For decades, Republican and Democratic administrations have successfully prosecuted hundreds of terrorists in Federal court," Obama said in a written statement shortly after signing the bill. "Those prosecutions are a legitimate, effective, and powerful tool in our efforts to protect the Nation. Removing that tool from the executive branch does not serve our national security interests," he said.