2013 is ending with a whimper on Capitol Hill. The Senate appears poised to advance the budget compromise on Tuesday, though getting 60 votes for cloture isn't a cinch. Once the budget deal is cleared, there are lots of reasons why the next 11 months aren't likely to be too active in Congress.
-- Republicans -- driven by the most conservative members of their caucus -- took a stand during the government shutdown, and Democrats gained in most polls of the generic congressional ballot. Since then, the rocky rollout of the federal health care exchange has increased opposition to the controversial law, and Republicans have overtaken the Dems on the generic ballot, according to poll averages.
-- That's why the GOP is endeavoring to stay out of its own way. Compromises small in scope that avert confrontation -- like the budget deal -- are a good model for what Republicans might seek to do on the farm bill, for example. House Republicans understood that last week, when they voted -- in much stronger numbers than their vote to end the shutdown in October -- to approve the budget agreement. House Speaker John Boehner's strongly-worded rebuke of trouble-making conservative outside groups underscored the establishment's frustration about the shutdown and their resolve not to botch this latest opportunity.
-- There is still one, potentially major obstacle to the GOP's prevent defense: the February debt-limit deadline. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) said Sunday Republicans would attempt to win concessions from Democrats in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. A fight over the debt limit introduces uncertainty -- as would big, broad plans to overhaul the nation's tax code and immigration laws.
At present, the trajectory of next year's elections seems most closely tied to voters' perceptions of the health care law and their opinions of President Obama's job performance. Unless those perceptions improve significantly, it's unlikely Republicans will want to upset the apple cart before Election Day.