US President Barack Obama at a press conference on the G20 summit in St. Petersburg

Barack Obama’s fraught efforts to secure congressional approval for a punitive strike on Syria are complicating an already packed and contentious series of negotiations with Congress over spending and senior appointments.

The White House’s concerted lobbying of Congress over Syria is pushing back the announcement of a new Federal Reserve chairman, expected to be Larry Summers, a former Treasury secretary and economic adviser to the president.

Syria is also draining energy and possibly political capital from the White House in its forthcoming talks with Congress over a new budget and the need to lift America’s borrowing limits.

The budget must be cleared through Congress by September 30, while the debt limit, to allow the US to continue borrowing to fund government spending, will need to be lifted by around mid-October.

The impact of Syria on the politics of all these issues is impossible to calibrate, as it depends on how it plays out and whether diplomacy takes over from the threat of military strikes in coming weeks.

But Mr Obama’s supporters despair at how his decision to go to Congress has put him in a corner and potentially dealt a serious blow to his authority for the rest of his second term.

One Democratic congressman who asked not be named and who counts himself as a strong supporter of the president, said he was “stunned” by how Mr Obama had boxed himself in over Syria.

“I think the president made a terrible mistake; he will not get the votes [in the House of Representatives] and it will weaken him badly,” he said.

The vote in the Senate, where Mr Obama’s chances of winning approval for military strikes had been considered stronger, was to be held on Wednesday but has now been delayed.

The 435-strong House, where nearly half of its members have already indicated their opposition to Syria strikes, is unlikely to vote until next week.

“We can’t even get out of sequestration [the automatic cuts in government spending] in Congress and we are going to attack a new country?” the congressman asked. “There are probably 20 other Assads out there,” he added, referring to Syria’s leader.

On top of Syria, the budget and the Fed, the administration is also in the throes of beginning in earnest the implementation of Mr Obama’s signature first-term reform of the health system, a huge bureaucratic undertaking.

The administration began the rollout with a speech by Bill Clinton, the former president, last week, in an effort to harness his talent for explaining complex issues, but the event was drowned out by the Syria controversy.

A number of Republicans are pushing to tie the budget approval to the funding of “Obamacare”, a gambit that has split conservatives, who fear they will wear the blame for shutting down government.

Depending on what happens with Syria, the process of finding a new Fed chairman to replace Ben Bernanke, who steps down next January, could also be upended.

A pivotal group of Democratic senators on the banking committee, which will have to confirm any nominee, opposes Mr Summers.

The Democratic senators Sherrod Brown, Jeff Merkley and Elizabeth Warren, all members of the banking committee, have signed a letter supporting Janet Yellen, the Fed vice-chairman, for the position.

Although they have not said they would vote against Mr Summers if he were nominated, and would be loath to embarrass Mr Obama by rejecting his choice, they might be less accommodating if they have already been pushed to bail out the administration by backing a Syria motion in the Senate.

Mr Obama scheduled six television interviews to push his case for Syria on Monday, while his secretary of state, John Kerry, addressed the issue on his visit to London. The president will make a TV address on the topic on Tuesday evening.


Letter in response to this article:

Roman who knew how to use power / From Dr Niccolo Caldararo

Look to Iran for a solution in Syria / From Prof Dennis JD Sandole

Congress should just vote ‘present’ / From Mr Eugene D Cohen

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