The House of Representatives will be in office only 97 days between now and the midterm elections in November. House leadership set the calendar this way to allow more time for campaigning — a clear sign that Congress plans to do even less in 2014 than they did in 2013. The House is taking off basically the entire month of October.
But President Obama and the Democrats have three major goals for 2014: re-up the unemployment benefits that lapsed in late December, raise the minimum wage, and finally get to immigration reform. The latter two seem impossible in the current climate. Democrats may succeed in re-upping benefits, but they don't have the votes yet. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared Sunday on Face the Nation: "The vast majority of the American people believe that unemployment benefits should be extended."
Republicans, meanwhile, haven't had one conference call or meeting since the House adjourned in mid-December, according to The New York Times. One House Republican told the Times, “Things are slow for sure.” Sen. Marco Rubio, at least, made his priorities known in a Youtube video released Sunday.
Rubio wants to repeal Obamacare and replace it "with more affordable options." He also wants to cut welfare spending. He echoes House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who sent a memo to House Republicans on Friday. Cantor says one of his main priorities for 2014 is "to exercise our constitutional duty of oversight of Obamacare."
So, once again, Congress can't agree on any set priorities. "Instead, Congress is likely to focus on more prosaic tasks," the Times reports, like "finishing negotiations on a farm bill that has languished for two years, agreeing on a law authorizing water projects, passing a spending bill for the current fiscal year and raising the debt ceiling by March." Congress has to pass a spending bill by January 15 — expanding on the Ryan-Murray deal — to keep the government open.
Reid directly addressed Republicans on Face the Nation yesterday: "Get a life and start talking about doing something constructively." It's a typical sassy Reid quip, but his sentence construction reveals the hopelessness of the situation. Reid didn't ask Congress to do something, he asked Congress to start talking about doing something. He's in luck — there will be plenty of talk between now and November.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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