President Obama commended members of Congress for recent shows of bipartisanship and set out priorities for when they return to work in 2014.
“It’s a hopeful sign that we can end the cycle of short-sighted, crisis-driven decision-making and actually work together to get things done,” he said before heading off to Hawaii for a holiday vacation.
The largest indicator of progress for lawmakers was the bipartisan budget deal that passed through both chambers of Congress in the last two weeks. The measure sailed through the Senate on a 64-36 vote on Wednesday, after a speedy trip through the House the previous week.
“For the first time in years, both parties came together in the spirit of compromise to pass a budget – one that helps chart our economic course for the next two years,” Obama said.
The president also praised Senate lawmakers for confirming a slew of nominees, including a number of federal judges, military leaders and the new head of the Internal Revenue Service.
“They’re men and women charged with growing our economy, keeping our homeland secure, and making sure our housing system and financial system work for ordinary Americans,” he noted.
But the nominees were not confirmed without a showdown.
Senate Republicans, angry at Democrats for unilaterally changing the chamber’s rules last month, had forced Democrats to wind out the clock debating all nominees. The faceoff was scheduled to force lawmakers to stay in Washington into the weekend, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced a deal to put off the weekend work late on Thursday.
The deal delayed the Senate’s vote to confirm Janet Yellen to lead Federal Reserve until January.
When they come back to work in 2014, Obama urged lawmakers to extend unemployment insurance.
“For many people who are still looking for work, unemployment insurance is a lifeline that can make the difference between temporary hardship or lasting catastrophe,” he said. “Instead of punishing these families who can least afford it – especially now – Congress should first restore that lifeline immediately, then put their entire focus on creating more good jobs that pay good wages.”
He added that if lawmakers continue to act in “the spirit of cooperation we’ve seen in recent weeks, I’m confident we can make much more progress together in the year to come.”