By: Santiago Zalazar
Ideally, every two years Members of Congress come together as one, indivisible body. At the beginning of each session, the most powerful branch of government rekindles hope that respect and compromise will trump partisanship and senseless stubbornness.
The 112th Congress was, to say the least, disappointing and sloppy. Congress enacted only a few major laws, and it missed many opportunities to pass high-impact legislation, especially with regard to the sustained, yet slow, economic recovery. The congressional approval rating exceeded 21% only once during 2012.
The 113th Congress could be no different. Unlike 2010, where the House turned red in a historic election, the new Congress’ balance of power and the leadership on both parties has remained unchanged. Here are some of the issues over which Congress will have the opportunity to fight and my predictions of what will happen in each instance.
First, in late January, the Senate confirmed John Kerry as the new Secretary of State by 94-3. While Secretary Kerry’s confirmation went smoothly for Kerry and Senate Democrats, the nominations of Senator Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense and Mr. John Brennan as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have been rather controversial. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Reid fell short of the 60 votes needed to obtain the cloture motion he and Senate Democrats wanted to end the debate over Hagel. Never in history had a debate about a President’s nominee been filibustered. As furious as Republicans appear to be about these two nominations and the lack of information the White House has provided the committees that oversee their confirmations, Senator Hagel and Mr. Brennan will soon be confirmed by a narrow margin.
President Obama has also nominated Mr. Jack Lew to be the next Secretary of the Treasury and Mrs. Jewell Rally to be Secretary of the Interior, and he is still expected to replace former Transportation Secretary LaHood, Labor Secretary Solis, and Energy Secretary Chu while maintaining racial and gender diversity within the Cabinet.
Second, House Republicans have agreed to raise the so-called “debt ceiling” until May, forcing both Chambers to pass a budget by April. Moreover, the $1.2 trillion across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester kick in at the beginning of March. If Congress decides not to fund the federal government after the current continuing resolution expires, it will have to shut down indefinitely. With less than two weeks until deadline, sequestration seems inevitable at this point, and the debt situation looks like a mess. Frustratingly enough, both parties will point fingers at each other during future spending negotiations. They will surely tackle the problem – they have to – but it will happen very slowly and not all at once.
Third, President Obama signed 23 executive orders establishing enforcement actions regarding gun control and violence, bypassing Congress. Having said that, if Obama wants to ban the sale of assault weapons, limit the size of magazines, and require universal background checks, he will have to send a bill to Congress. The Senate has held hearings on this issue, and during last week’s State of the Union Address Obama told Congress that the victims of the latest shootings “deserve a vote.” (http://dyn.politico.com/printstory.cfm?uuid=2C950CB2-E1CA-09FD-2EB7C6C2A64EBC31). The Senate might pass a new measure by compromising on the language of the bill introduced by Senator Feinstein. However, anything that proposes to expand the current gun control regulations and oversight will most likely die in the Republican-controlled House.
Fourth, Senator Rubio has been working on an alternative version of the immigration bill introduced by Senators Durbin and Hatch in 2001, known as The Dream Act. President Obama has proposed a number of ideas that the White House would like to adopt. While Rubio has been in constant communication over the past few years with Senators from both sides of the aisle who have already agreed to some elements of the immigration bill, House Republicans – after agreeing with each other – will ultimately decide the fate of immigration reform.
The challenges before us are far too important to play partisan politics. Inaction could have far-reaching consequences for hard-working Americans. And should Members of Congress continue to refuse to compromise, many may even lose their seats in 2014. Because they are entrusted with the development of society as a whole and with the representation of their constituents, the 113th Congress will accomplish much more than I suggest in this post. Ideally, that is.