Time ticks away for agenda items

President Obama and the 113th Congress haven’t been productive in the first five months of the year. 

Much of Washington’s focus since his second inauguration has been on gun control and immigration. The former screeched to a halt several weeks ago, and the latter faces many hurdles in the months to come. 

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But a second rank of bills has been advancing though the House and Senate in recent weeks, including legislation on farms, cybersecurity, an online sales tax, Iran sanctions, arming rebels in Syria and student loans.

Congress plans this summer and fall also to tackle the debt limit, tax reform and appropriations bills.

Many on and off Capitol Hill believe Obama must sign immigration reform this year if he is to revive his second term after its sluggish start. If the immigration debate stretches into 2014 — an election year — its chances of passing will plummet.

But election-year politics can infect many other bills as well; thus it is often vital to a piece of legislation’s chances that it take big steps toward passage before Labor Day. 

There are exceptions; it was mid-term 1986 when then-President Reagan signed massive immigration and tax reform laws. 

Investigations into the Obama administration’s Justice Department, State Department and Internal Revenue Service could also impede high-profile bills.

The Hill interviewed K Street lobbyists this week, most of whom said they are not concerned that their bills will be affected significantly by the probes.

Heritage Action, a conservative pressure group, has urged Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to focus more on investigations into the Obama administration and not on legislation that divides the GOP, such as the online sales tax bill and the farm bill.

Republicans on Capitol Hill have not embraced Heritage Action’s message, noting that the group has caused friction among Republicans by opposing leadership priorities. 

Boehner, meanwhile, said, “We have a twofold job here in Congress. We need to keep focused on the priorities of the American people. ... In addition to that, we have a responsibility under the Constitution to provide oversight of the executive branch.”

The last Congress was deemed unsuccessful by both parties, and this one is also off to a weak start. To turn it around, members are going to have to do some heavy lifting this spring and summer.