Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON - Suddenly, with two roll call votes, the messy, multi-issue battles of the 2014 elections have been refocused on two central issues that will put the GOP back in charge of Congress.

The budget and debt limit fights have been set aside for the time being with the swift votes this week for a debt limit extension, and the earlier passage of a budget to keep the government running for the rest of this year.

This means that the midterm election battles for the rest of this year will be turned into a clear referendum on the voters' two foremost concerns: a weak, jobless economy and the increasingly unpopular, dictatorial Obamacare law.

Democrats, who rarely if ever talk about either of these issues, were hoping and praying that this year's elections would remain muddy enough for them to save a number of their House and Senate seats from GOP takeovers.

But House Republicans couldn't agree on any subset of demands they hoped to extract from Senate Democrats in the debt limit bill, forcing House Speaker John Boehner to offer a clean bill and end the issue for the year. It quickly passed the Senate.

Now the focus returns full bore to two major issues on which President Obama and the Democats are weakest among the general electorate. And the early signs suggest they will get creamed on both in the fall, as the economy plunges into another slump, and Obamacare lurches from one debacle after another.

If anyone thinks for a moment that the White House is not worried about the political fallout of all of this, consider what the president did Tuesday when he abruptly handed mid-sized business employers a politically-driven reprieve from his health care law.

Under the new rules announced by Obama's Treasury Department, these employers will have until 2016 -- two years longer than the law intended -- before they become liable for federal penalties if they do not comply with the rules requiring that they pay part of their employees' health care.

Mid-sized businesses of 100 workers or more, got a one year grace period.

How conveniently timed. Warned by his advisers and top Democrats that if the penalty fines kick in this year, as the law required, Obama was in for a worse shellacking than he got in the 2010 GOP takeover of the House. This time, he faces losing the Senate.

This is the second time Obama's been forced to change the rules in the law. Last summer, when the White House was being bombarded by business complaints, he agreed to delay the rules for one year.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.