A congressional highlight reel for 2013 would look more like a blooper film. Certainly, it was a little less than its finest hour.
But, at the end of the year, there was some hope as Congress actually managed to pass a budget. Sure, it was filled with pork, as usual, but it actually passed. It was the first time that had happened in six years. For all practical purposes, we'd been living on continuing resolutions that simply continued the last Bush budget.
Off that heady moment of bipartisan compromise, Congress has three significant issues it needs to deal with quickly before everyone starts grandstanding for the coming elections.
First, it's got to get through another debt ceiling hike. This could be simple, as they normally are (after all, what it does is simply say Congress will pay for the programs it has approved), or it could be another bloodletting like the last two years. Opening that can of worms again isn't likely to help anyone in November, but the GOP most of all, so maybe the Republican moderates will hold serve and get this through without anything more than some rhetoric from the Tea Party wing.
Second is the Farm Bill. If they don't do something soon, the old 1949 Farm Bill will kick in. Some subsidies would disappear and representatives from many rural states are raising the specter of $7 gallons of milk. That may or may not be true, but a new Farm Bill, or at least an extension of the current one, must be passed quickly. The issue here, of course, is how large the cuts will be in the food stamp program, which is part of the Farm Bill. Both sides agree there will be cuts. The issue is how much.
Considering Congress just let the long-term unemployment extension expire, there's likely to be more people needing food stamps than before. Not extending the unemployment insurance didn't magically end unemployment (there are times Congress seems to forget we're not completely out of the Great Recession, yet). Instead, all it did was shift people from one federal assistance program to another. Getting some real jobs back into this country, and stopping the bleeding of quality jobs to overseas locations, is the only real way to solve this problem, but Congress hasn't spent a lot of time talking about that. It's more important to rehash Benghazi for the umpteenth time.
Finally, Congress needs to move forward on immigration reform. After five decades of talking about it, it's time to actually do something about it.
And Congress needs to reform the campaign financing laws. The more money candidates need to get elected, the more they are likely to wind up beholding to some fat cat. The average Joe will wind up with less and less influence and nothing more than lip service from candidates.
So, as we enter 2014, an election year, maybe Congress can resolve to actually do its job, to craft programs that help people, encourage business growth and make the nation a better, stronger, safer place for all of us.
-- Kelly Everitt