Lawmakers have returned to the nation's capital this week and a long list of agenda items are waiting for their approval: a $1 trillion federal budget, a farm bill, a short-term extension of unemployment benefits and more. This Congress passed fewer than 65 laws last year -- the smallest number in any single session. Will 2014 be a repeat of 2013?
We'll still have "very bitter, acrimonious sound bites," but "I don't see any big crises," says Greg Valliere, chief political strategist at Potomac Research Group and a longtime Beltway insider. "We're not going to have another government shutdown on Jan. 15. We're not going to have a big debt ceiling fight. I actually think [Congress] is going to do something in January."
Why the optimism?
"Republicans realized how badly they hurt their brand in the fall," explains Valliere. "Both parties will seek to avoid self-inflicted wounds."
Once the House confirms Janet Yellen as the new Federal Reserve chairman (the Senate voted Monday in her favor), lawmakers will pivot to an issue that Democrats have rallied around: a 3-month extension of jobless benefits. Nearly 1.3 million Americans stopped receiving unemployment insurance benefits on Dec. 28. "Seventy-two thousand Americans will lose their benefits each week during the first half of 2014 if unemployment insurance is not extended," according to the Huffington Post.
“It’s the right thing to do," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on CBS' Face the Nation. "We have long-term unemployment. That’s why the American people support this – Democrats, Independents and Republicans."
Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., are co-sponosrs of a bill to extend jobless benefits through March 31. The bill will cost an estimated $6.5 billion. Republican leaders have said they are willing to sign off on the measure if spending cuts are applied to other programs. Valliere says one area that may be proffered in a deal: ending Saturday mail delivery.
Even if policymakers can only agree to the three major bills at hand "that's not bad for a Congress that is allegedly gridlocked," quips Valliere.
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