January 5th, 2014
07:13 PM ET
4 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. Thomas Nichols

    Interesting article. Funny thing is Obamacare is a house of cards and it is doing a great job of falling apart.
    Come on now, no one is going to be fined for failing to "sign up", aka "Purchase" a for health insurance program that is most certainly a for profit product! How could anyone expect such folly to actually proceed to occur except for incredibly naive?
    As for the unemployment compensation, it should be noted and understood this is a lifeline for many still struggling to find jobs in their career field unlike many who have been forced to take two part time jobs without benefits as a direct result of Obamacare. So they need this money to wait it out until the death of the entire obamacare "Man in the middle" program.

    January 5, 2014 09:34 pm at 9:34 pm |
  2. Harold Read

    1. The Obama Administration would rather have $ billions in criminal immigrant tax credits than unemployment or veterans benefits
    2. The Obama Administrations over commitment to the food stamp program (that criminal immigrants illegally indulge in) guarantees funds needed to run the government are unavailable
    3. The Obama Aministration's inability to get the US economy on the right track is more than willing to ensure China's wealth and prosperity though reckless borrowing.
    4. Obamacare = as one of the architects of Obamacare, Max Baucus, said... "train wreck!"
    5. The constant push to legalize criminal immigrants has resulted in a surge of criminals are now crossing the boarder waiting for the false promise if amnesty.

    5 years of Hoax and Blame...
    - no wonder DC us deadlocked
    - maybe it is a good thing = the less damage they can do to the county

    January 5, 2014 09:36 pm at 9:36 pm |
  3. zenreaper

    Got to love it, 5 ways the Republicans can work WITH the Democrats...then list 5 things the Republicans need to give in on completely. Unemployment insurance? Really? So the Republicans that left town without addressing it were labeled by the PRESIDENT as "cruel". No mention of the DEMOCRATS that left town for the holidays, of course not. The Debt Ceiling? Come on, do the Democrats REALLY thing they should get the INCREASE they need without giving ANYTHING up? Where do they learn to compromise? And Obamacare, really? The House wants to pass a bill making the security of the site SAFER for people to enter their personal data. It was obvoius from Sibileuos's (SP?) deer in the headlights stare when ask about site security that this was not addressed, so they are fixing it.

    This is going to be another do nothing Congress, NOT because the Republicans won't compromise, but because the Democrats have the mentality that not giving them EVERYTHING they want is somehow be "OBSTRUCTIONIST".

    January 5, 2014 09:37 pm at 9:37 pm |
  4. DrMantis

    The President and his administration are serial liars and commit fraud on a daily basis. It gets tougher and tougher to lie about your previous mountain of lies.

    January 5, 2014 09:53 pm at 9:53 pm |
  5. Obo -- the joke is on you citizens

    The House should give Obo as much cooperation as he gave the Repubs on Obocare.

    January 5, 2014 09:54 pm at 9:54 pm |
  6. your kidding

    Who cares about obama......

    January 5, 2014 09:57 pm at 9:57 pm |
  7. Andrew

    one thing that I learned is that Obama is a lie....he doesn't want anyone's way but his own no matter what the cost and will say anything to get his way.

    January 5, 2014 09:57 pm at 9:57 pm |
  8. rs

    The Republicans are simply too devoted to their hatred of the President of the United States and their pathetic anti-federal government rhetoric. The truly sad thing is they won't divorce themselves from their rich patron, or their demented TEA Party unless they continue to lose more elections (like they lost Virginia). There will be no "comity" because no matter what, they want to fight and defy the President- even when he is trying to implement their policies.

    January 5, 2014 09:58 pm at 9:58 pm |
  9. billmosby

    Immigration Reform is a good idea as far as the title goes, we just have to replace its contents with a program that enforces existing laws, ensures against overpopulating the U.S., and gives citizens first preference for jobs (jobs whose wages are realistic and not driven down by a large surplus of erstwhile workers). Keep immigration rates to about the level needed to ensure a slowly decreasing population here, or at the very most a stable population.

    January 5, 2014 10:03 pm at 10:03 pm |
  10. Steve Hamilton

    I expect virtually no comity in 2014 because of three big stories that will unfold before June 30. These are:1.) an Executive order to eliminate gerrymandering will be issued, 2.) the credit rating agencies will update the US credit rating to reflect the impact of the far right shutdown and default threat. The rating will drop two levels and raise the cost of borrowing by 200 basis points, which will increase the deficit by about $100 billion, and 3.) the business community will drop its support of far right candidates. In fact, this last action has already started,as reported yesterday by the NY Times in a news (not opinion piece) article.

    These items will allow the Democrats to go on the offensive, and will sweep aside all the ACA issues of 2013. The Republicans will be on the defensive all year long and will likely get massacred in the mid terms.

    January 5, 2014 10:04 pm at 10:04 pm |
  11. James

    On the unemployment benefits thing, there HAS to be reform. It was never intended to be a permanent benefit, but rather one that allows people to get back on their feet. It's already been extended time and time and time again. At SOME point it has to stop...or do liberals believe it should NEVER stop?

    In any case, Harry, I don't think people are going to change their minds for 2014 based on what happens to unemployment compensation. If it doesn't get extended, liberals will be upset but will vote as they would anyway...Democrat. And Republicans will still vote Republican. If Reid pushes hard, Republicans should counter with a "is there EVER a time when liberals won't want to extend it?" and push for reform in this area. And we'll continue, of course, to highlight people's increasing costs, decreasing options, and decreasing personal choice of Obamacare. There is LOTS of time in 2014 for the costs of Obamacare to come home to roost for liberals, as much as they'll try to shift the focus to other things.

    January 5, 2014 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm |
  12. Name Uche Agonsi

    The unemployment insurance does not impose additional burden on US budget. Its just for renewal. Its impact had already been determined and properly managed. But if GOPers opt to hold the feeding of helpless Americans hostage for budgetary revenue, they should cut Congressional benefits or Profits on Investments to help these people.

    January 5, 2014 10:07 pm at 10:07 pm |
  13. Just

    The O....No he can't.

    January 5, 2014 10:19 pm at 10:19 pm |
  14. Name Uche Agonsi

    For other issues like Obamacare (with low poll support), Immigration, Debt Ceiling, etc, Americans have another chance to determine what they really want in 2014........ Do they really want more wars, no healthcare, another recession, more money for the rich, Snowden and AQ, as well people like Senator Paul and countryless Cruz........ OR Obama.

    January 5, 2014 10:25 pm at 10:25 pm |
  15. Paul

    Boehner and the House set a record for futility in 2013. If they continue on this path of simply "obstruction" they will continue to hurt this country. Saying "no" without an alternative plan is just obstruction and nothing less.

    January 5, 2014 10:38 pm at 10:38 pm |
  16. ED1

    The fantasy is Reid getting rid of the only thing he is capable of saying DEAD ON ARRIVAL from anything the Republicans bring forth time for this clown to retire for the good of this once Great Country.

    January 5, 2014 10:44 pm at 10:44 pm |
  17. BraveNewWhirled

    There's a simple solution: Encourage SMB jobs. They are after all, near 70% of all U.S. jobs. You can do this very quickly by setting Obamacare on the back burner. Trash the ind./emp. mandates. These are killing SMBs and that's a big reason why people are getting laid off or hours reduced. This will work VERY fast in boosting the economy.

    Stop these asinine foreign occupations. The U.S. has some 700 military bases throughout the planet. Close 600 of them and build some manufacturing facilities. But no, you bass holes want to grow garlic in Mexico. I'm just getting started.

    January 5, 2014 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |
  18. Devon

    while they pretend to fight, the american people are losing their freedoms.

    January 5, 2014 11:04 pm at 11:04 pm |
  19. J.V.Hodgson

    It is clear that division still exists within the GOP the effect of which through out the whole of Obama's presidency has been gridlock and a total do nothing strategy from republicans which offers zero realistic alternative even when proposing repeal of laws passed
    There is no hope of change the republican house thinks it has and can retain its majority there and they also believe the can win the Senate
    Come late this year we the people will give some politicians a rude awakening.
    Regards,
    Hodgson

    January 5, 2014 11:05 pm at 11:05 pm |
  20. Ruthann Adamsky

    Congress can not, and will not accomplish ANYTHING! Unless they have to fund another useless war, that is.

    January 5, 2014 11:23 pm at 11:23 pm |
  21. America Suckered Again

    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."
    _________________________________________________________________________________________________
    Creating yet another $26 billion of new American debt to pay people not to work is typical Democratic party irresponsible mismanagement. Harry Reid is living in a fantasy land where debt can be infinite just to support his political greed. What he fails to explain is that the burden of this federal debt will fall on the backs of the middle class worker. The result will be much smaller percentages of what we earn actually making it home with us. This is already unreasonable. But it gets worse with political greed like what Harry Reid has brought to Washington.

    January 5, 2014 11:33 pm at 11:33 pm |
  22. Coffee Party

    Maybe if these clowns worked with the AMERICAN people instead of making sweetheart deals for themselves the country would be better off.

    January 5, 2014 11:40 pm at 11:40 pm |
  23. Steve

    This sounds more like, "5 things liberals want, in absolute form, and if they don't get them, they will blame it on the lack of cooperation from conservatives."

    January 5, 2014 11:52 pm at 11:52 pm |
  24. msj

    I seriously expect the Boehner led House to fold like an over done noodle. He and his leadership are probably the most spineless, cowardly, self-serving members of the GOP in history. The GOP has a wonderful opportunity to succeed but their leadership situation is dire at best. Time to clean house.

    January 5, 2014 11:54 pm at 11:54 pm |
  25. BLE7481

    This article measures "comity" as "does the President get most or all of what he wants?".

    Unfortunately, that it is how the President measures it as well.

    Bipartisanship should be measured by, if nothing else, each side giving up about half of what it wants to get the other half. Wake me up when that starts happening.

    January 6, 2014 12:04 am at 12:04 am |
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