January 5th, 2014
07:13 PM ET
12 months ago

5 tests for kumbaya on Capitol Hill

Washington (CNN) - 2013 ended with Congress reaching a deal on funding the government without all the end-of-the-year drama that we've come to expect. Democrats and Republicans defied the recent all-or-nothing gamesmanship and brokered a budget deal before its deadline, prompting speculation that maybe, just maybe, dogs and cats can live together.

Here are five things on both President Barack Obama's and Congress' agendas that will show pretty quickly whether breaking the partisan logjam in the capital is possible or just a fantasy.


1. Unemployment insurance

The bipartisan biodome already seems to be showing cracks in its fragile foundation on the question of whether to extend benefits for the long-term unemployed. With the Senate set to take up the measure when it returns from holiday recess Monday, Sen. Harry Reid backed his Republican colleagues into a corner with a flurry of verbal jabs. Reid told CNN the GOP demand for offsets - corresponding cuts that would cover the $26 billion cost of a temporary extension in unemployment benefits - is "foolishness."

Though some Republicans, including Nevada conservative Sen. Dean Heller, have said they're willing to cross the aisle on the issue, House leaders drew a line: A spokesman for Speaker John Boehner insisted the top Republican in the House won't agree to extend long-term unemployment benefits unless Democrats come up with a way to pay for them.

The White House isn't giving any ground on the matter, either. After the President scolded Republicans for being "cruel" to the Americans most in need of help, the Obama administration's top economic adviser, Gene Sperling, told CNN's Candy Crowley on Sunday that should the GOP fail to cooperate, they would hurt the country and hurt themselves at the polls in 2014.

Still, despite the growing chorus of discord and doubters, Reid remained confident he could find the 60 votes necessary to clear the first procedural hurdle in the deeply divided body on Monday.

2. Funding the government: Devil's in the details

Before lawmakers toast bipartisanship, they might want to think about re-corking the champagne. Yes, congressional negotiators did agree to a deal that would fund the government through 2015. And, yes, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, who brokered the deal, proclaimed an end to the budget bickering that's gridlocked the capital in recent years.

But there have been a lot of bold podium proclamations that ultimately ended up as footnotes.

While the deal would set federal spending on domestic and defense programs at little more than $1 trillion for both this fiscal year and next, the budget package does little in terms of providing long-term savings and offers no sequester relief beyond 2016.

More importantly, the Ryan-Murray accord amounts to a framework, leaving Appropriations Committee staffers in a bind to flesh out the details before January 15. The omnibus behemoth also takes what's normally a steady march to the finish - appropriators normally dole out funds in 12 separate bills - and compresses it into a full-on sprint.

Plus, this isn't exactly mathematical mad-libs. Appropriators need to agree on just how much to parcel out to federal agencies, including those charged with implementing the much-maligned Affordable Care Act. Most are hoping a coffee-fueled cram can prevent the collapse of a major milestone and let Congress focus on more important things - like doing away with the NFL television blackout and making sure the Treasury can't mint trillion-dollar platinum coins.

3. The oncoming storm: Debt ceiling

Everyone knows the stakes on this one.

The full faith and credit of the United States.

The ability of the federal government to pay its bills.

The stability of the world economy.

Just be thankful the looming consequences don't also include zombies.

Even after the brinkmanship that preceded an October compromise that gave the government fiscal breathing room until February 7, Congress and the White House seem poised to take the battle over the debt limit into the early morning hours of February 8. Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he couldn't "imagine it being done clean," and Ryan slung aside his bipartisan ball cap to tell Fox News that Republicans "don't want nothing out of this debt limit."

Obama, for his part, has now uttered the line that his administration is "not going to negotiate for Congress to pay its bills" enough times to create a sizeable YouTube mashup.

Though the Treasury Department will still be able to use "extraordinary measures" to temporarily delay the onset of financial ruin, the Congressional Budget Office projects those measures would probably be exhausted in March.

4. Obamacare

The Republican-controlled House seems set on spending 2014 like it spent most of 2013: shining a white-hot spotlight on the uneven rollout of Obamacare and trying to repeal or roll back the President's signature health care law.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor announced Thursday the House's first order of business when it returns from its holiday break would be a vote on legislation to address potential security risks for personal information collected on the Obamacare website, HealthCare.gov.

Americans for Prosperity, which spent $16 million on anti-Obamacare television ads in the fall, will spend $2.5 million on fresh commercials that target three Democratic senators up for re-election for their support of Obamacare: Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.

While HealthCare.gov provides a steady stream of fodder for conservatives, websites can be fixed and glitches remedied. But Republicans are banking on the idea that the "it's more than just a botched website" narrative, especially the President's broken promise on keeping your health care plan, can carry them to electoral success in the midterm elections this fall.

The latest CNN/ORC poll on Obamacare law showed opposition to it now sits at 62% and that the administration is fighting a losing battle to sell one of the Democrats' key electoral blocs - women - on the law's merits. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed believe the new law will increase the amount of money they personally pay for medical care, a finding that runs counter to the White House's argument that the law is working and its favorite statistical refrain: Health care costs in the United States have grown at the slowest rate on record over since the act was signed into law.

5. The long way around: immigration reform

Speaking to supporters in San Francisco on November 25, Obama said, "It's long past time to fix our broken immigration system."

It was a major item on the President's first-term agenda and arguably the top task on his 2013 to-do list. Republicans know they must address the issue or lose the vital Latino voting bloc for generations to come. But 12 pages on the congressional calendar have been ripped off and flung in the rubbish bin, and still Congress appears no closer to finally moving on immigration reform.

Whether the House chooses to bring up immigration legislation this year largely depends on whether the GOP powers-that-be think it's a winning issue. A pair of November surveys indicated a majority of Americans favored a pathway to citizenship but said moving now on reform isn't necessarily a priority. That data could give an already-reluctant caucus even more pause in taking up the issue and may increase the velocity of the "headwinds" Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said the effort will need to overcome.

soundoff (69 Responses)
  1. TJ

    Lol.... The economy is allegedly getting better and yet we need unemployment beyond 99 weeks. Seems like a mixed message.

    And we can fund the government, sort of but will need to raise the debt ceiling more? Seems a bit odd to ask to raise the credit limit on your credit card when you've already maxed it out.

    Finally we have our President who warns the GOP that opposing his agenda will hurt the economy. Talk about safeguarding your policies with blame insurance should they not go as planned, regardless of how insolvent the numbers might be. Wow- now that's leadership!

    January 6, 2014 12:05 am at 12:05 am |
  2. Jon

    They will not cooperate, it will be the same stuff, just stirred and re-shoved....... And they're wrong on #3, there will be zombies.

    January 6, 2014 12:12 am at 12:12 am |
  3. I'm a Democrat but enough is enough.

    In the paper today, I read that people, who lost their unemployment compensation, were at the job centers looking for jobs. Why weren't they looking for jobs before they lost their benefits? Because they were getting checks for NOT working! The government has a HUGE deficit. It can't afford to pay people to NOT work. I thought unemployment was a bridge between jobs, NOT a substitute for a job. While these people are waiting for "careers", let them get a JOB! The Republicans are right on this one. TOO many people are milking unemployment and becoming lazy! They will find jobs..... when you STOP paying them NOT to work!

    January 6, 2014 12:55 am at 12:55 am |
  4. Raven33

    I'm impressed, CNN is pushing to get unemployed funded and couldn't care less if it's paid for and no mention of taking care of veterans who are continuously having to live with broken promises!

    January 6, 2014 01:16 am at 1:16 am |
  5. LOL@Obama

    no,no,no,no,no

    Ok next? Lie to me more...

    January 6, 2014 01:28 am at 1:28 am |
  6. Thomas

    trillion-dollar platinum coins ?

    Am I missing something here ?

    January 6, 2014 01:43 am at 1:43 am |
  7. Healthcare Hamer

    So glad to see CNN still believes the line between journalism and editorial remains as blurred as ever. Who is Seher to establish the five things that prove whether there is bipartisanship logjam in the capital or not? And since when is a logjam (debate on both sides) a bad thing unless there are outsiders (the media) helping point the fingers? We need to find the MONEY for the things we spend at a federal level, not just do them because they will make us feel good or garner future votes. Yes, I'd like us to find $26 billion to pay for expanding unemployment benefits BEFORE we renew them. Imagine that, finding money from another "less important area" to pay for what is a higher priority!

    January 6, 2014 02:29 am at 2:29 am |
  8. Scott

    How many people paid their first month's premium for Obamacare? One more week until the December report from HHS on Obamacare enrollment, however will there be information about payment?

    Real enrollment includes both signing up and paying.

    Also, how much have they paid?

    January 6, 2014 03:25 am at 3:25 am |
  9. croaton999

    Ok CNN. You really believe Obamacare is number 4. This is why your viewing base is diminishing. You are seriously out of touch with reality.

    January 6, 2014 07:16 am at 7:16 am |
  10. cmml

    BUDGET:
    The budget deal was a joke. Obama is already pushing to change the deal and shift it from budget positive to budget negative by extending unemployment insurance. Both parties will now whine about a lack of funding for their pet programs and the whole framework will be blown up and replaced by more debt

    OBAMACARE:
    Love that the liberal media wants to now keep the focus of Obamacare on the rollout rather than the lies and the millions who have lost their insurance and are now having to pay more. When the rollout is the best thing about the legislation, you have a problem

    IMMIGRATION REFORM:
    Republicans know what happened to Reagan with immigration reform and won't let it be repeated. If Democrats truly want to get immigration reform passed, they will commit to improved security first rather than the bait and switch tactics they used in the 80's

    January 6, 2014 07:35 am at 7:35 am |
  11. king

    what up about rebuilding our country repubs, our infrastructure is looking like a third world country every day, yet all you do is block infrastructure rebuilding. we know the repubs superior media propaganda machine is on a roll fooling the american people that being poor and going without healthcare is the way to go. its time some one tell fox news with all their rich republicans host, that only cators to the rich, and hell with the middle class and poor, that is time to hire a democrat host for at least a half a hour daily. msnbc has joe scarborow a republican for 3 hours every week day morning on morning joe, why is fox so afraid to hire one dem and give him or her their own show. the people of America deserves to hear the other side of the story, even only if its half an hour. why in a civilized modernized country should the people accept a station with all its host are all right wingers and its acceptable. the people are fooled into believing that sacrificing wealth and sickness is the best way to go so that the rich can get richer and is free to invest their money and jobs in china. what kind of thinking does these people have.

    January 6, 2014 07:55 am at 7:55 am |
  12. Rudy NYC

    Curiously enough, the cost to keep the long term unemployment insurance going, $26B, is almost exactly what Ted Cruz' government shutdown cost.

    January 6, 2014 08:25 am at 8:25 am |
  13. current state of the union

    The gop is certainly dumb enough to shut down the government again, they think your stupid enough to blame the Democrats, even though they changed the law to assure it would happen, then play to the media with the memorial closings, fools!

    January 6, 2014 08:33 am at 8:33 am |
  14. current state of the union

    The Republicans want one thing from immigration, billions for their campaign donors aka haliburton. They will never grant citizenship, but will promise it for the money. Another signature gop policy move, give us billions in taxpayers money for no bid contracts that always go to the gop military contractors, just like the war getting tired of watching my money go straight to the top

    January 6, 2014 08:47 am at 8:47 am |
  15. Martin L.

    4. Obamacare

    Misleading information is only going to carry the day so far. To lump people who think the ACA is not going far enough with those who outright oppose it is too feeble an argument for words. Also, the notion that a majority of women is opposed to a law that puts them on equal footing with men and strengthens their access to healthcare strains credulity. Of course, time will tell but with enrollment increasing with dramatic speed I think it is a pretty safe bet that the ACA (Obamacare) will prove to be a potent weapon for the Democrats, come November.

    January 6, 2014 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  16. J.V.Hodgson

    There is no Kumbaya for politics in 2014, its already clear from leading Republicans that it is more of same 2009 to 2014.
    = Very simply put no policy solutions/ alternatives from Republicans and guaranteed, take it to the bank, opposition to anything Obama and Democrats propose.
    The founding fathers designed an adversarial checks and balances system that assumed negotiation and compromise would result.
    Today we have a problem.... Republicans even filibuster reconciliation on the budget. Thank you green eggs and ham Mr Cruz .
    Regards,
    Hodgson.

    January 6, 2014 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  17. Thomas

    It sounds like a job for Aqua Buddha

    January 6, 2014 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  18. Lars

    Instead of "kumbaya", how about some serious compromise....

    January 6, 2014 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  19. Tampa Tim

    When will RWNJs realize that the money they wasted on the government shutdown is almost the same as what is needed to extend benefits? Oh, yeah, never. The only things goopers want is more war.

    January 6, 2014 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
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