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There also are disturbing reports that millions of older working Americans are facing a retirement crisis in this economy. The Employee Benefits Research Institute, which monitors pension data, reported this week that the number of Americans who are saving for their retirement has plunged from 75 percent to 66 percent.

One-third said they were saving nothing when they were no longer employed in an economy where well-paying jobs were in short supply.

Mr. Obama’s joke about “getting away from Congress” may backfire on him when someone steps forward to remind him of his State of the Union address urging lawmakers to get to work on his agenda. He didn’t say he may not be there to help push his proposals to a vote.

Even if the president were there, it wouldn’t have changed what happened to his gun-control bill on Tuesday. That’s when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced the bill’s assault-weapons ban was politically dead — dealing the AWOL president an embarrassing defeat.

A number of Democrats, up for re-election in 2014, were uncomfortable with the assault-weapons bill that Sen. Dianne Feinstein pushed through the Senate Judiciary Committee. This means the Democrat-run Senate will likely take up a far less controversial, stripped-down bill when it returns from a two-week recess.

On another front, a major budget hurdle was cleared this week that locked in for the rest of this year the $85 billion in budget sequestration spending cuts that Mr. Obama wanted to repeal.

The Senate on Wednesday approved a budget bill for the remaining five months in this fiscal year, averting a federal government shutdown that was set to occur next week. It is expected to win easy approval in the Republican House.

This means the focus shifts entirely to the 2014 budget battle and two very different spending plans. The House GOP budget plan cuts spending, balances the budget and reforms entitlements. The Democrats’ plan in the Senate makes relatively few spending cuts and calls for $1.5 trillion in new taxes over 10 years.

That’s the heavyweight budget battle that needs to be fought, and it will play itself out over the course of the year. Whatever the outcome, one thing is certain: Republicans in the House are not going to give Mr. Obama any more new revenue in higher tax rates. That book is closed.

Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times.