Volumne 12, Issue No. 1
February 4, 2014

113th Congress’s To Do List

As the newly sworn in 113th Congress settles into their freshly painted offices, starts hanging pictures on the walls, and fills out their staffs; those in and out of Washington ponder what the 113th will accomplish by the end of the next two years.

The 112th Congress focused on fiscal matters, commonly known as the “fiscal cliff” which included taxes, federal spending and the nation’s debt up until the bitter end. After weeks of politicking between branches of government and political parties; the American Taxpayer Relief Act passed both houses and was signed by the president. The final agreement made the Bush-era tax rates permanent for those making below $450,000 per family, or 400,000 per individual, extended emergency unemployment benefits for a year, postponed for a year the 27 percent cuts to Medicare provider payments, and kicked the can down the road on across the board cuts, known as the sequester, for a few months.

Although 84 new House members and 13 new Senators make up the 113th Congress freshmen class, the House of Representatives and the Senate are still controlled by the same Republican and Democratic leadership, respectively, as the last congress.  Even though all the legislation introduced in 112th Congress died when the 113th Congress was sworn in; many of the same issues will carry over into the new Congress.

Possible Agenda Items

Money, Money, Money: The “fiscal cliff” agreement reached on January 1, 2013 did not resolve all the outstanding financial matters the country faces. The American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA) delayed the date of the sequester by two months, so that the sequester, if not replaced, revised, or further delayed, would take effect on March 1, 2013. The ATRA reduced the total amount of cuts the sequester has to come up with, over nine years, by $24 billion, reducing the total from $1.2 trillion to $1.176 trillion.

As the drama unfolds in early spring of 2013, the White House pursues a ratio of 1:1 of revenues to cuts.  Additionally, the White House and Republican members have expressed a desire of generating revenues by closing tax loopholes. Specific details are unknown at this time.

In addition to the sequester, the federal government reached its statutory debt limit of $16.4 trillion on December 31st, 2012.  The debt ceiling is an indication of the monies the federal government has already borrowed to pay its bills.  The Treasury Department has employed extraordinary accounting measures to keep the U.S. from defaulting on its debt since December. However, viable accounting measures will most likely have run out between February 15th and March 1st, forcing Congress to tackle the issue or the nation will default on its national debt.

If the debt ceiling debate from the summer of 2011 is any indication, discussion of raising it again this spring could be contentious.  According to the Washington Post reporter Zachary Goldfarb, “Republicans say they plan to use the occasion to demand deep federal spending cuts, with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) insisting on a dollar reduction in federal spending for every dollar increase in the nation’s borrowing limit.” However, President Obama has stated that raising the debt ceiling is not negotiable.

Immigration: The President stated in his election night speech, and on other occasions after, that passing Immigration Reform would be a key piece of his second term agenda. Given the President’s vocal support and the political realities of the rapidly changing demographics in the country – there are signs that the traditional Republican opposition may be softening. While it is unclear what immigration reform will look like during the new Congress, it is clear that this hot button issue will get plenty of attention from both sides when it’s finally unveiled.

Gun Violence: The recent tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary have thrust the issues of gun violence and mental health back onto the national stage. Senator Diane Feinstein has announced her plans to introduce gun control legislation aimed at restricting ownership of assault weapons like the one used in the school shooting in Connecticut. There is also talk about taking a closer look at the way mental health is administered in this country. Congress may explore what ways, as a nation, we can improve the quality of mental health services.  

April Canter and Jerome Mayer

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