President Barack Obama’s trip to South Africa to attend a memorial service for former president Nelson Mandela comes as Congress works to wrap up pressing end-of-year business. Obama will be overseas while lawmakers race to meet a budget deadline and ponder a possible tightening of economic sanctions against Iran.
The president and first lady Michelle Obama will lead a delegation to Johannesburg that is expected to include former president George W. Bush.
“I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela’s life. My very first political action, the first thing I ever did that involved an issue or a policy or politics, was a protest against apartheid,” said President Obama.
The White House has scrambled to rearrange the president’s schedule for a trip during the only full week both houses of Congress are expected to be in session for the remainder of the year. Lawmakers face a Friday deadline to fund the government or risk another partial federal shutdown early next year.
Obama wants a bipartisan agreement that includes an extension of federal benefits for the unemployed.
“If Congress refuses to act, it will not just hurt families already struggling. It will actually harm our economy. Unemployment insurance is one of the most effective ways to boost our economy,” said Obama.
The president should focus less on government solutions and more on energizing the private sector, according to the Speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, John Boehner.
“There is no doubt that under President Obama our country has fallen into what I will call a new normal; slow economic growth, high unemployment, stagnant wages. Listen, the president is more focused on increasing reliance on government programs than pro-growth policies that would create more American jobs and better American wages,” said Boehner.
The coming week may also reveal whether lawmakers intend to follow through on tougher sanctions against Iran, despite administration warnings such measures could torpedo international negotiations over the country’s nuclear program.