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Keep Your Head Down

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 12: U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) (2nd L) walks to the House Chamber to vote on the recently announced bipartisan budget agreement December 12, 2013 in Washington, DC. The Senate is expected to vote on the budget next week.
National Journal
Steven Shepard
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Steven Shepard
Dec. 16, 2013, 6:45 a.m.

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.

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