Politics in 2014: What to look for

The battle for control of the Senate, ObamaCare implementation and a desperate push for immigration reform will likely dominate the political world in 2014.

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Other issues that will grab headlines include the intensifying debate on the National Security Agency’s powers and heated Republican primaries — which will test the Tea Party.

A rundown of what to look for in 2014 follows.

Leftovers from 2013. Immigration reform, the farm bill and an unemployment benefits measure will be front and center early next year. The farm bill has a decent chance of passing while the other two appear less than 50-50 for getting to President Obama’s desk.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told The Hill that jobless benefits will not be included in January’s omnibus spending bill that will keep the government funded. House Republicans are unlikely to move a jobless benefits bill when unemployment is at a five-year low — especially if its costs are not offset. Democrats plan to highlight income inequality next year, and will renew their push for an increase to the minimum wage.

The battle for immigration reform will be one to watch. For now, Obama is not ripping House Republicans for failing to move a bill. That will change as the weather gets warmer, and the election draws closer.

Immigration reform critics are worried about Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) plans on the thorny issue. He recently hired a former aide to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who voted for the Senate-passed bill. Boehner’s new war with Tea Party groups has some on the right believing the Speaker will attempt to pass immigration reform early in 2014.

The debt-limit battle. The end of the year détente between Republicans and Democrats won’t last. The parties are already bickering over the debt-limit fight, with Obama and congressional Democrats saying they won’t negotiate on it.

Boehner, however, is unlikely to pass a “clean” debt increase. No one really knows how this will ultimately play out.

Obama revival? The president is mired in a huge slump, and political analysts are now regularly comparing his second term to the disastrous second term of former President George W. Bush. In many ways, Obama’s State of the Union address will be an attempt to get his presidency back on track. Obama said Friday that he thinks 2014 could be “a breakthrough year.” If it isn’t, his approval numbers will likely continue to linger in the low 40s, which could jeopardize Democratic control of the Senate and cement the House Republican majority in the midterm elections. The president’s recent shakeup of his White House staff has provided Democrats on Capitol Hill with some optimism.

ObamaCare implementation. The rollout was a fiasco. The question is: Will it continue? But perhaps the bigger question is: Will young people enroll? If not, healthcare premiums will increase and Republicans will be armed for the midterm elections. However, there is plenty of time between now and November, and Democratic leaders — such as Reid — say ObamaCare will be net positive by the fall.

NSA. There are competing bills to revamp the NSA, and the drip-dip news coming from Edward Snowden is helping Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) attract co-sponsors for their far-reaching legislation. But Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who head the House and Senate Intelligence panels, have warned that the threat of terrorism is on the rise and argue that NSA intelligence activities cannot be gutted.

Snowden’s future. Will he remain in Russia? Or attempt to travel to another country? Russia granted Snowden a year of asylum in August, and Snowden has asked Brazil to grant him political asylum. There has been some talk of the U.S. striking a deal with Snowden, who has an estimated 1.7 million classified documents. But the administration and lawmakers on Capitol Hill have said they are not interested in granting Snowden amnesty.

Iran. Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry brokered a tentative nuclear deal with Iran. But the accord has been criticized by both Republicans and Democrats. Many lawmakers, including Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), want to pass additional Iran sanctions. The White House has vowed to veto such a bill. This issue will test Obama's relationships with his Democratic allies in Congress.

Afghanistan. Obama has repeatedly said that U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but it remains to be seen what the U.S. presence will be there beyond that. The U.S. has had an uneasy relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and a security deal for 2015 still has not been signed.

Battle for the Senate. Republicans need to pick up six seats to wrest control of the upper chamber. That’s a tall order, but history and the map in 2014 is on the GOP’s side. It’s likely that most Democrats in red states, most notably Sen. Mark Pryor (Ark.), will distance themselves from Obama in 2014. Still, the most closely watched race will be Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) effort to win a sixth term.

Democrats in the House say they can win back the lower chamber, but that is unlikely. They need to win 17 seats, meaning there will have to be a Democratic wave come November. The wave might begun to form during the government shutdown, but it hit a wall with the botched ObamaCare implementation.

Hillary Clinton and 2016 politics. Once the 2014 election is over, many Democrats and Republicans will be announcing their 2016 plans. Clinton is expected to run, and she is expected to be the prohibitive favorite to win the 2016 Democratic nomination. The Republican field will be crowded, and could include a handful of senators, including Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Rand Paul (Ky.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Rob Portman (Ohio), John Thune (S.D.) and Kelly Ayotte (N.H.).

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