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. Richard

    If I was in congress I would work with the criminal in the white house. He is breaking law of the constitution and should be impeached.

    January 5, 2014 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  2. Gurgyl

    GOP is pretty much gone without clue.

    January 5, 2014 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  3. bill

    Cut spending and get Americans back thinking about building a country of individuals the way this country was founded. Lets take unemployment extension. OK but with these rules.
    1. drug test-why pay any one who is spending money on drugs??
    2. have to report to an office once per month to 1.pick up check and 2. have evidence that can be verified from
    10 companies that they tried to get employment.
    3. at the end of 3 months-then have to report daily to an office and work for the money.

    This would cut the expense in half and is fair to everyone. THIS WOULD BE A GOOD START.

    January 5, 2014 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  4. cneder

    There doesn't need to be cooperation. Only impeachment proceedings.

    January 5, 2014 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  5. DoubleOKool

    Time for Congress to do the right thing for the American people. Put the country first.

    January 5, 2014 08:06 pm at 8:06 pm |
  6. tm1946

    Seems more like a dream wish of Pres. O and harry reid than something Republicans need to submit to. If anyone thinks my Rep Rep or Senators need one piece of these "ideas", they can wait for the warm weather to get here. No, they want re-elected and can only do so if, repeat IF, demos want to give something up.

    January 5, 2014 08:10 pm at 8:10 pm |
  7. Lawrence Goldstein

    1) No way will the Republicans do anything in this area.
    2) Funding, thought that is what they were suppose to do?
    3) Debt ceiling, Republicans would rather shut down the country for 16 days and BLOW 26 Billion and screw the country before they give in.
    4) AFA, No way, Republicans tried to kill it over 47 times.
    5) No way will the Republicans pass any type of reform. Marco Rubio is my State senator – Total Tea Party.

    January 5, 2014 08:10 pm at 8:10 pm |
  8. NorCalMojo

    I don't think Obama is really in the equation. If Pelosi and Reid are willing to compromise, Obama will go along.

    January 5, 2014 08:12 pm at 8:12 pm |
  9. Martin L.

    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 potent weapon for the Democrats, come November.

    January 5, 2014 08:13 pm at 8:13 pm |
  10. Rick McDaniel

    The best thing we can hope for, is that nothing happens until Obama leaves office.......which is likely the least damaging scenario.

    January 5, 2014 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
  11. 老屄壳子闭嘴

    the 2 parties are always living together, and did every right thing for their dads and hedge fund managers in wall street.

    Now American citizens, spread your legs and put some gel if you are not wet

    January 5, 2014 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
  12. afnmvet

    Hate to sound pessimistic but I don't see republicans and democrats agreeing on any of the 5 things listed.

    January 5, 2014 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  13. Brad

    Say NO to ILLEGALS & any politician who would hand our country over to them for votes, (THE Democrats). Say NO to more Gun Control & those who would vote to take guns away from you, (The Democrats).
    Say NO to Obamacare & the lying party who said it would lower your health cost, (The Democrats)
    Say NO to increasing our debt & burdening our children's children with more, (The Democrats)
    Friends don't let friends vote Democrat so just say NO to Democrats!

    January 5, 2014 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  14. ermentrude

    There is no comity. There could, perhaps, be a thawing, if Reid were replaced by Murray, and McConnell replaced by Ryan.

    January 5, 2014 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  15. obamacansaveyourhouselosangeles

    what? paying as we go is NOT a good Idea? who said That? Sen. Hairy Reid. it seems that every year there is a budget battle. why? if we only spend what is budgeted for there should be NO INCREASE to our LONG TERM DEBT. so why does the DEBT keep increasing.? why not grow a pair and put a STOP to this non-cents.

    Here is my proposal. Let whoever increases the US Debt without paying for it in offsets within the US Budget, let THEM PAY FOR IT out of their OWN POCKET. US Congressmen This Means YOU!! ALL of YOU. why NOT? personal responsibility. There REST of US has to play by the rules (or go bankrupt) it seems that the US CONGRESS does NOT play by the rules (or even reality) and The Obummer in Chief changes LAWS that he can NOT LEGALLY touch. But yet he DEFIES the rules and even delays the very LAW that he wanted to get past. now it is more politically expedient to postpone the pain till AFTER the 2014 Elections so that they can get MORE VOTES. Let Illegals get Citizenship? why not BILL their country of origin $100,000 (or more) for every YEAR that They have been here illegally. Yes/No? why NO? no Illegal Amnesty before they pay for all of the Expenses that the US American Taxpayers have already have had to already pay out of their own pockets.

    HEY US CONGRESS. GROW a pair and put a STOP to all of this Non-Cents. ( I will vote for THAT )

    January 5, 2014 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  16. Dan

    Nothing is going to pass. Obama has burned the house down and the Repubs aren't going to let him back up off the deck.
    In the end, it will be a miracle if Congress simply doesn't make the Capital fall down

    January 5, 2014 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  17. Wade

    Money does not grow on trees . Someone needs to tell Reid and Obama that.

    January 5, 2014 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  18. Regularguy22

    Well, perhaps the President should stop being such a prick

    January 5, 2014 08:45 pm at 8:45 pm |
  19. Steve

    Obozo the liar with no experience and who blames others even tho the buck stops wih him

    January 5, 2014 08:53 pm at 8:53 pm |
  20. lerianis

    I seriously doubt that the Republicans will compromise on anything, their whole 'thing' is that anything Obama suggests is bad and 'the Devil's work'.

    January 5, 2014 08:57 pm at 8:57 pm |
  21. PharmGrl

    2014 mid terms are going to be a referendum on Obamacare. Democrats can attempt to spin this by talking about the number signed up ad nauseum, but their 2-3 million max will be dwarfed by the 100 million who were ambushed with massive tax hikes and premium jackings to pay for it.
    If Democrats had been honest about the provisions of their health care reform, Obamacare would never have passed. It is the Biggest Bait and Switch in the History of the Planet. If the mainstream media had done it's job reporting on what was really hidden in Nancy's bill, Obama would not have been re elected.
    Guess it took the Obama's DOJ's attempts to silence and intimidate journalists, the most aggressive since Nixon's, to finally convince them to stop carrying Obama's water.

    January 5, 2014 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  22. laquisha

    The Ryan/Murry piece of garbage allowed the" law of the land" sequester signed by Obama to be ignored in favor of 65 billion in more spending and borrowing.The only thing RINO Ryan came out with was no more extension of welfare benefits for people that haven't done a lick of work for two years .Now typically the Demorats want to ignore that agreement and make the Republicans look heartless>No more negotiating with liars and theives

    January 5, 2014 09:09 pm at 9:09 pm |
  23. Iamnotfooled

    And all of this would be accomplished if you vote Democrat. Get the Republicans out of the way!

    January 5, 2014 09:13 pm at 9:13 pm |
  24. Dave in IL

    Thanks, CNN, for listing 5 issues that the Democrats would like the Republicans to capitulate on rather than anything the Democrats would have to give ground on. I especially like the debt ceiling litany of "the sky is falling" outcomes that every liberal throws out to spin the issue.

    January 5, 2014 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
  25. randomthoughts

    Democratic or Republican – If you ONLY hold back the welfare of the American public because you don't want to be seen as "giving in" to the other side of politics, you should be accountable, and if enough evidence is brought forth, GO TO JAIL. History will also seal your fate in what your actions are, and if you just want to create roadblocks for recovery, you should be punished.

    January 5, 2014 09:28 pm at 9:28 pm |
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