President Obama took some time this holiday season to golf in Hawaii. Knowing what's ahead, it might be a rough first day back at the Oval Office.
2014 is all of two days old, but several major political battles are already inevitable. There are sure to be plenty of curveballs that no one can anticipate, but even if everyone just plays the cards they have been dealt, it’s going to be a ferocious year in politics. Here are 5 big political fights that will play out over the next 363 days.
Comprehensive immigration reform was at the top of the list last year, and the Senate eventually hashed out a bill over the summer. Democrats allowed for more “secure the border” stuff than they would have put in on their own, but this brought 14 Republicans over to the “Yes” column on the bill’s final vote. This, the theory went, would put pressure on the Republican-controlled House to put the Senate bill up for a vote (which very likely would pass) or do their own legislation. Instead, the House turned their attention to shutting down the government.
In 2014, the House looks like it will actually get to work on immigration reform. The one issue: the Tea Party. The Senate bill creates a long and expensive pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. That doesn’t fly with hard-right conservatives who see this as amnesty. How much the Republican leadership cares about the Tea Party intransigence will be a sign of things to come (more on that soon).
2. Minimum Wage
Democrats face a number of tough elections in 2014, as the wave of Democratic senators who came in with Obama in 2008 now have to defend their seats under less exuberant circumstances. Beyond that, Democrats need something to excite voters, now that the enchantment with Obama is long gone and there is no Mitt Romney to play foil.
Their answer: raise the minimum wage. This will be the Democrats rallying cry for the entire year, and it is well chosen: raising the minimum wage is good policy, extremely popular, and puts Republicans in an awkward spot. Voters tend to like the candidate that is promising them more money.
3. Unemployment Benefits
Unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed were allowed to expire on January 1st. Democrats have pledged to restore them promptly, but there is a reason they were allowed to expire in the first place: there is little political will among Republicans to vote for a program that is seen as a handout (despite the fact that unemployment benefits are some of the most effective forms of economic stimulus).
4. The Debt Ceiling Zombie
Lost in the high-fiving over the budget deal which means no more government shutdowns for a minimum of two years was the fact that the debt ceiling will have to be raised again around March, and Republicans have already said that they plan on extracting concessions from Democrats in exchange for not allowing the U.S. to default on its loans. Democrats, emboldened by their success on the combo debt ceiling/government shutdown negotiations of last fall, will likely hold firm and not give anything. The result will probably be a deal involving harmful cuts, unemployment benefits and about six months of debt ceiling raise. That or a total disaster.
5. Republicans vs. The Tea Party
2014 is an election year, and by August, “politics” is just going to mean endless squabbling over political points. Before then, however, the fight for the soul of the Republican Party will rear its head once more. This time, “mainstream” Republicans come armed with a lot of PAC and Super PAC money specifically tagged for defending themselves from Tea Party challengers. Tea Partiers have defeated mainstream Republicans and then lost to Democrats in Senate races each of the last two elections. With a real chance to take back the Senate, Republicans will do what they can to protect themselves from nominating Tea Party members who can’t win in a statewide election. It should be fun to watch.