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.
What We're Following See More »
The Republican Study Committee may lose several members of the House Freedom Caucus next year, "potentially creating a split between two influential groups of House conservatives." The Freedom Caucus was founded at the inception of the current Congress by members who felt that the conservative RSC had gotten too cozy with leadership, "and its roughly 40 members have long clashed with the RSC over what tactics to use when pushing for conservative legislation." As many as 20 members may not join the RSC for the new Congress next year.
"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday issued emergency authorization for a Zika diagnostics test from Swiss drugmaker Roche, skirting normal approval channels as the regulator moves to fight the disease's spread." Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that a new study in Nature identifies "about a dozen substances" that could "suppress the pathogen's replication." Some of them are already in clinical trials.
According to 37 newly released audits, "some private Medicare plans overcharged the government for the majority of elderly patients they treated." A number of Medicare Advantage plans overstated "the severity of medical conditions like diabetes and depression." The money has since been paid back, though some plans are appealing the federal audits.
"GOP leaders and House Democrats are already laying the groundwork for a short-term continuing resolution" on the budget this fall "that will set up a vote on a catch-all spending bill right before the holidays." As usual, however, the House Freedom Caucus may throw a wrench in Speaker Paul Ryan's gears. The conservative bloc doesn't appear willing to accept any CR that doesn't fund the government into 2017.
"The FBI has uncovered evidence that foreign hackers penetrated two state election databases in recent weeks, prompting the bureau to warn election officials across the country to take new steps to enhance the security of their computer systems." Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson earlier this month conferred with state election officials, offering his department's assistance in scanning for vulnerabilities."