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Congress Set To Do Basically Nothing For Rest Of 2014

Capitol Dome

Over the past two months or so, Congress has actually demonstrated something that we haven’t seen very much of in the past several years, in that it accomplished most of the things that it was supposed to be doing in the first place. In December, the House and Senate easily passed a Budget Plan for Fiscal Year 2014 after both parties decided to step back from the brink of forcing another shutdown crisis. Then, in January, we saw them pass not only a bill to fund appropriations for the entire Federal Government through September 30th and pass a Farm Bill after more than a year of back and forth between both parties, and the lobbyists for farmers and other interested groups, over the terms of such a bill. Yesterday, of course, the House of Representatives passed a clean bill to raise the debt ceiling through March 2015, and the Senate is expected to pass that same bill and send it on the the President today. All in all, given the gridlock and partisanship we’ve seen on Capitol Hill in in recent years it’s been a remarkable two or three months of actually getting some work done.

So, what can we expect Congress to do next? Well, pretty much nothing between now and the midterm elections it would appear:

The debt-ceiling bill passed by the House Tuesday, unburdened by additional Republican policy demands, appears headed for approval in the Senate, which would mark an end to major fiscal fights for the rest of the year.

With the debt limit raised, a budget passed, and the funds appropriated, Congress will have largely cleared its decks—though for what is still unclear.

As lawmakers head into Presidents Day recess, they have few big-ticket legislative aspirations this year, only a few accomplishments, and plenty of time to campaign.

nOf course, there’s something on everyone’s list. Senate Democrats will pursue a host of issues, including a minimum-wage increase and an extension of federal unemployment insurance. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said earlier this month that House Republicans will finally advance a GOP alternative to the Affordable Care Act. But the odds against those becoming law are long, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was hard-pressed to name other bills that are likely to pass this year. “There aren’t a lot,” he said.

Lawmakers still will have to approve another round of spending bills for the 2015 fiscal year. But whether they do, and whether those will be full-scale budget proposals or messaging tools, remains to be seen. Either way, it won’t be the heavy lifting seen in years past. The bipartisan budget deal has already set the level of government spending, which is one of the major flash points.

The rest is small-ball stuff: tax extenders, an energy-efficiency bill, and addressing how the government pays doctors under Medicare. That has some saying this is the true kickoff to campaign season.

This kind of relative inaction isn’t entirely surprising. Congress in an election year isn’t typically very active when it comes to pursuing major pieces of legislation to begin with. Both sides of the aisle play a role in this in that the each have agenda items that they want to make part of the midterm campaign. That means, even in an era of bipartisanship, it would be unlikely that we’d see major breakthroughs this year on issues like tax or entitlement reform, immigration reform, or anything major dealing with the budget beyond actually passing a Fiscal Year 2015 budget, or more likely a Continuing Resolution that pushes the final budget deal out to a point after the midterms themselves. The motivation behind this applies regardless of which party you’re talking about. Democrats are likely to make issues such as the minimum wage and, where appropriate, immigration reform part of their 2014 campaign against the GOP, and Republicans are likely to do the same with issues like taxes, entitlements, the budget, and health care reform. Neither party is going to have much of an incentive to compromise now when the possibility exists that they could be in a better bargaining position after the election when the makeup of the 114th Congress will be known. This is especially true for Senate Republicans who have what seems right not to be a very good chance of taking control of the Senate or at the very least substantially reducing the size of the Democratic majority to the point where their bargaining power would increase significantly. The other side of the coin, of course, is that what is actually typical midterm election year behavior by Congress will give Democrats the chance to once again make the argument that the GOP is responsible for the existence of a “Do Nothing” Congress. So, while you may see both parties push legislation over the balance of the coming year, those pushes will be more directed at setting the table for the General Election battles in the summer and fall than they will be aimed at actually getting legislation passed before Election Day.

By the way, I wouldn’t necessarily expect the 114th Congress to be something that produces a lot of breakthroughs either. The 2016 Presidential campaign will essentially be beginning the day after the 2014 elections. Indeed, I expect we will start seeing some candidates making their opening moves toward a Presidential run even before November 2014, at least on the Republican side. Given that, both parties will begin moving into 2016 campaign mode very early in 2015, just as we saw the last time both parties had no incumbent running for President in 2007. Beyond the basic business of passing budgets and such, the two years of the 114th Congress are likely to be little more than political groundwork for what will likely be a battle royale both inside the two parties and between them in 2016.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. stonetools says:

    Absent a shocker election with the Democrats winning back the House and keeping the Senate, I expect nothing significant from Congress before November 2016. I expect much handwringing by the Beltway media about why anyone can’t make divided government work like in the good old days of Ronnie and Tip,or LBJ or Eisenhower or whatever.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    And this is different from the last 4 years How?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  3. rudderpedals says:

    With Congress ceding the field to the President is it any wonder he’s increasingly exerting executive power?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Doug, that is the best argument I have heard yet for just doing away with elections.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. Ron Beasley says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: I’ve often thought that perhaps we should just draft the House members but continue to elect the Senate and President.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  6. Mikey says:

    Here’s a lovely exposition of “conservative” thought regarding how the House leadership is handling things:

    John Boehner, Eunuch

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Mikey: Next time give me a warning if you are linking to the American Non-Thinker.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  8. Scott F. says:

    Yet, 90% of these people will end up re-elected. It could drive one to drink.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  9. gVOR08 says:

    @Scott F.: Too late.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. Mikey says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Is everything there the dumpster fire that article was? Wow.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  11. Jeremy R says:

    House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said earlier this month that House Republicans will finally advance a GOP alternative to the Affordable Care Act.

    I’ll believe it when I see it. If they can get even a tenth of their caucus to sign on to their “Patient CARE Act” I’ll be dumbfounded.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/matthewherper/2014/01/28/the-proposed-republican-replacement-for-obamacare-is-a-big-tax-hike/

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  12. grumpy realist says:

    But why are you unhappy, Doug? Isn’t this the wonderful lack of governance all libertarians are looking for?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  13. john personna says:

    Related, Molly Ball at The Atlantic:

    The 2011 showdown was revealing. Previously, the idea of default was so unthinkable that observers and markets didn’t consider it a possibility. But the confrontation showed how far the new House majority was willing to go. They weren’t looking for compromise; they wanted the whole loaf. They weren’t just mad. They were convinced—erroneously—that they had the power to undo Obama’s agenda entirely from their perch controlling one-half of one-third of the federal government. They were in denial.

    So, now they understand that controlling one-half of one-third of the federal government does not grant power to undo Obama’s agenda … leaving only the “power to do nothing.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  14. john personna says:

    (also amusing:)

    Yes, as you may have heard, the debt ceiling needs raising once again, sparking the usual fear and dread among people who follow Congress, a category consisting largely of masochists, reporters, masochistic reporters, and market analysts. But this time, it looks like it will happen with none of the panic that has attended similar legislation in recent years.

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  15. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Mikey: I don’t know. Never been there before but I feel safe in assuming it is!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  16. C. Clavin says:

    What have they done since the 2012 mid-terms???
    Voted to repeal Obamacare 42 times.
    And passed some laws limiting the rights of women.
    And that’s why our imperial tyrannical King is forced to do what he can on his own.
    It would be nice if Republicans could grow up and do their jobs. But no one should bet the farm on that happening in the near future.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  17. rudderpedals says:

    @Mikey: The derp at the link. It’s too much . Eunuch?

    Not a fan of Boehner’s policies but from here it looks like he kicked around the teas and put them away wet. Gumption and a rare appearance of nutz.

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  18. C. Clavin says:

    @rudderpedals:
    Yeah…two years too late.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  19. C. Clavin says:

    @rudderpedals:
    Obama should call hime up and ask him WTF…where have your balls been for two years? In Eric Cantors mouth???

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  20. rudderpedals says:

    You’re right, CC. I best defer further defense to the Speaker’s overzealous staffers. In my dotage I think I’ve become more thankful for the small rare things I used to take for granted.

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  21. john personna says:

    @rudderpedals:

    Boehner allowed the Teas to destroy themselves, and nearly us in the process.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  22. rudderpedals says:

    @john personna: Indeed.

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  23. matt bernius says:

    @Mikey:
    The best thing about that American “Thinker” link is the author’s byline:

    Dr. Jason Kissner is associate professor of criminology at California State University, Fresno. You can reach him at crimprof2010@hotmail.com.

    One of those Liberal Academics I hear so much about.

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  24. Tyrell says:

    Now that Congress will have all this time on their hands, they can sit down and actually read some of those bills that they have passed, such as the 1600 page novel entitled the “Affordable Health Act “. Maybe they could actually get together and pass some codes and regulations for themselves such as a bill must be written in everyday language (not some legalese that only lawyers can read) and must be confined to 5 pages or less. And no tack ons for such projects as highways to nowhere, bridges over nothing, airports with no planes, or “recreation centers” in politicians’ backyards. Maybe it would be a good idea for them to be given a short, multiple choice test on the bill. They seem fond of wanting all the school kids tested to death, let them try it for a few days.
    “Fine print ? They don’t even read the large print !!”
    “And I just can’t wait to get on the road again” (Nelson)

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  25. grumpy realist says:

    @Tyrell: Dude, there are many pieces of legislation that wouldn’t fit into your precious 5-page limit. Have you ever READ any piece of legislation? Quite often the first 30 pages are nothing more than a dictionary explaining what the terms mean!

    And if you want to leave it all up to the Executive Branch or the law courts…..dude, I don’t want EVER to hear one stinkin’ complaint from you whining about “activist judges” or “executive power grab by the POTUS.” The power to define is the power to control, and if the bloody congresscritters are too lazy to write legislation in a responsible way, no one should bitch that other parts of the government do it for them.

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  26. rudderpedals says:

    Any free time the House has, and it’s not much since they work less than 3 ways a week, will be spend as it always has the rare times it’s in session, on fundraising gigs, trivial resolutions naming post offices, or in yet another futile attempt to unwind Obamacare.

    They’re certainly not going to spend it reading a 5 page bill much less a 1600 page bill. That’s done by the many staffers,the good ones paid 6 figure incomes by the US Treasury, all in all hundreds of millions of dollars per year dissipated on professional staff paid to read, understand, explain, and sometimes subvert the legislation.

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