The Richmond Register

Viewpoints

February 21, 2013

What’s ahead in Congress this year

Earlier this year, it seemed there might be some hope for Capitol Hill when Congress dealt easily with raising the debt ceiling. But don’t let that single episode fool you.

As President Obama and House Republicans circle each other over the forthcoming budget cuts known as the “sequester,” it’s a reminder that Congress and the White House have a complicated legislative agenda ahead – and that none of the items on it will come easily.

We’ll get to the specifics in a moment, but two things need to be said up front.

The first is that despite President Obama’s exhortations in his State of the Union speech, major policy changes will be difficult to make.

The Democrats may have increased their margin in the Senate, but the Republicans still control the House.

The ideological polarization and apparently incompatible views that marked dealings between the two bodies show no sign of abating.

Significant policy initiatives are not impossible, but it’s safest to have subdued expectations.

Second, although rank-and-file members seem more willing than in the recent past to part with their caucuses on high-profile votes, power will continue to rest with the leadership.

Over the year ahead, the dynamic to watch will involve the caucus leaders in both houses – ordinary members may have some impact on the margins, but they won’t be the center of the action.

The big issue, of course, will continue to be the budget and fiscal affairs.

The major questions are: Can we get our fiscal house in order? Can we revive economic growth and make the investments we need in human and physical capital? And can we figure out a reasonable way to pay for the government we require – one that doesn’t need the 73,000 pages of rules and regulations that burden our current tax code?

However Congress and the White House proceed, it’s unlikely there will be any “grand bargain.”

Instead, they are likely to make piecemeal progress on the core issues: increasing tax revenues and cutting spending on entitlements.

Confrontations over these matters will make it harder to tackle other economic issues that need addressing, such as how to address the regulation of the biggest banks and how to finance the infrastructure that our economic growth desperately needs.

Congress also will turn to health care.

As long as President Obama is in office, his signature health plan will not be repealed, but there will almost certainly be fights over its implementation and funding.

The big issue – how to control health-care costs – will remain a centerpiece of the debate, but it is unclear how it will get addressed.

On the other hand, there is unambiguous movement on immigration reform.

While Democrats have coalesced around a comprehensive approach to the issue – which would include ways of easing the stay of highly skilled workers, a guest-worker program, and a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country – Republicans have generally preferred tackling specific issues separately.

The two sides can find common ground, especially on high-skilled workers.

Possible citizenship, on the other hand, will be much knottier to resolve.

So while the gridlock may be easing, comprehensive reform of our broken immigration system is not assured.

You can also look for piece-by-piece initiatives on gun control.

While the White House and some members of Congress are looking for wide-ranging legislation banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, others are focused on specific proposals that can gain bipartisan support.

Some members with widely different views, for instance, are coalescing around an effort to expand requirements for background checks on gun sales.

Climate change, which gained national force last year with Hurricane Sandy, is less likely to see congressional action.

Despite the certain threat of rising seas and storm surges, Congress seems unprepared to get serious about it.

Instead, as he promised in the State of the Union, if Congress cannot act the President will take whatever steps he can by executive order, as he just did with cyber-security.

There are drawbacks to this approach, but it is a reminder that when Congress is able to act it remains a player, and when it can’t, it deals itself out of the policy picture.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

1
Text Only
Viewpoints
  • 06.29 CrystalFarewell.jpg Starting over at Head Start

    All I ever wanted to be was a journalist. Having worked on my high school and college newspapers, I knew it was the career for me.
    I love talking to people, listening to their stories, being creative every day and experiencing new things. But as you know, news happens outside the hours of 9 to 5, and my job here at the Register rarely stayed within that time frame.

    June 29, 2014 2 Photos

  • Ike Adams They don’t make strawberries as they did back in the old days

    I’m not inclined to go through my archives at the moment, but it almost feels like the column I’m about to write has almost become an annual thing over the years.
    At least I know for sure that that this is not the first time that memories of picking strawberries there on Blair Branch on hot days in June has triggered this keyboard about this time of year.
    I grew up on a little subsistence, hillside farm deep in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, among the coalfields near the Virginia line.

    June 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ike Adams Baby boomers have let technology rob their grandchildren of the joys of youth

    When I was growing up, it was not uncommon to see fathers and sons along creek banks fishing together or in the woods hunting squirrels or pitching horse shoes or even shooting marbles late in the afternoon in the cool hours before dark.
    Dads were teaching kids to play the games they grew up with. Little girls, learned from mothers,how to skip rope, play with jacks or play hopscotch.

    June 12, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg No Lincoln or Douglas in this debate

    Remember the famous slap-down in the 1988 vice presidential debate when Republican Dan Quayle compared his youth and limited government experience to those of John Kennedy’s when Kennedy ran for president?
    His Democratic opponent, Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, acidly replied: “I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

    June 7, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg Senate campaign already in full bloom

    Any hope for a respite in the U.S. Senate campaign following Tuesday’s primary disappeared immediately.
    Mitch McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes came out swinging in victory speeches which sounded like campaign kickoffs.
    McConnell commended Matt Bevin on “a tough (primary) race” and appealed to Bevin supporters to unite behind his re-election bid. That will be hard for Bevin and those who backed him.

    May 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jim Waters.JPG ‘Taxpayer-eaters’ meet ‘self-serving politician-eaters’

    What some candidates could gain in this year’s election – beyond just winning office – is a stark reminder of how wrong political leaders were when declaring last year they had adequately addressed Kentucky’s public-pension crisis.
    Instead, legislators with serious courage deficiencies failed to agree on reforms beyond what they believe are “politically feasible.”

    May 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ike Adams Step Out, Step up for Diabetes Association

    Six weeks ago when I wrote here announcing the 2014 Edition of Team TKO’s American Diabetes Association, Step Out Walk Team, several dozen of you readers sent generous donations to sponsor grandson Tyler Kane Ochs (TKO) and me in the walk that takes place, rain or shine, in the mud or not, at Keeneland on the morning of May 31.
    Another several dozen of you either called, emailed or dropped a card in regular mail and asked that I remind you again “after the holidays” (Easter and Mother’s Day).

    May 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg Hitting the campaign trail

    The most watched race in the country ? the battle for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Mitch McConnell ? has so far produced a bevy of charges and not much substance.
    We haven’t seen that much of McConnell or his likely Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes out on the campaign trail.
    McConnell’s primary opponent Matt Bevin has been much more active and visible, but his performance hasn’t enhanced his chances.

    May 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • The case of the scary black cat

    If Margie didn’t believe that black cats were the harbinger of bad luck, she certainly believed it when a black cat brushed against her leg while she was leaning over a large trash can burning garbage one late afternoon.
    Startled by the sudden appearance of the feline, Margie opened her mouth wide and let out a blood-curdling scream that could have awakened Count Dracula himself.

    May 10, 2014

  • Ike Adams Basking in the spring sunshine

    If you had asked me, as recently as two weeks ago, to make a list of things I expected to see on the first Monday in May of 2014, two of the things that I actually did see would not have been on the list, even if you’d required that it contain at least 500 items.
    I’d have been a bit skeptical about Ralph’s purple asparagus and his gorgeous snowball bush, both of which came through most admirably. And I would have had my doubts about the poppies that have been in our back yard for several generations and the bearded German Iris that Jeanette Todd gave us more than two decades ago. It faithfully stuns us there at the corner of the front porch every spring, but there they were, basking in absolute glory as the sun set Monday afternoon.

    May 8, 2014 1 Photo

AP Video
Raw: Japanese Soldiers Storm Beach in Exercises Raw: Weapons Fire Hits UN School in Gaza Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship Broken Water Main Floods UCLA Two Women Narrowly Avoid Being Hit by Train In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast New Sanctions on Key Sectors of Russian Economy Crayola Announces Family Attraction in Orlando US Ready to Slap New Sanctions on Russia Kerry: Not Worried About Israeli Criticism Boater Rescued From Edge of Kentucky Dam Girl Struck by Plane on Florida Beach Dies Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre House to Vote on Slimmed-down Bill for Border Looming Demand Could Undercut Flight Safety Raw: 2 Shells Hit Fuel Tank at Gaza Power Plant Raw: Massive Explosions From Airstrikes in Gaza Giant Ketchup Bottle Water Tower Up for Sale Easier Nuclear Construction Promises Fall Short Kerry: Humanitarian Cease-fire Efforts Continue
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Poll

Should Madison County’s three local governing bodies ban smoking in indoor public places?

Yes
No
     View Results