2014 offers little hope for a more productive Congress

When the calendar flips from an old year to a new one, we have a sense of being given a new start and new possibilities. Of course, the reality is that days and months and years are human constructs that merely mark the progress of the Earth around the sun. The world we live in on Jan. 1 is pretty much the same as the world we experienced on Dec. 31. This is especially true when it comes to Congress.

Our senators and representatives left town for their Christmas break with plenty of unfinished business, and that business will be waiting for them when they return to work in a few days. Immigration reform, the farm bill, an extension of unemployment benefits and a long list of other bills languished on their desks in 2013, and 2014 is unlikely to bring a break in the political dysfunction that has prevented swift action on any of the challenges facing the country.

Soon, we will face another fight over raising the debt ceiling. There could be another budget showdown as well, because the spending plan agreed on in December has to be implemented by another vote in January. Tea party Republicans in the House will still be resisting compromise with a president they revile and will be giving headaches to the man with the job of keeping them in line, House Speaker John A. Boehner. In the Senate, even with recent revisions in the rules governing filibusters, it will still be a struggle to gather enough votes to get anything passed.

The slim hope for change lies with the congressional elections in November. The campaign will, itself, be an impediment to getting anything accomplished in the 113th Congress as the two parties jockey for advantage, but, if one party gains a mandate from voters, it would mean the 114th Congress could produce a coherent legislative agenda and get it enacted.


What are the chances of that happening? Not good, because the other thing that will not change in 2014 is the three-way split of American voters. About a quarter of us find our worldview reflected on “Duck Dynasty” and Fox News, another quarter are tuned in and turned on by Jon Stewart and MSNBC, and the remaining 50% are too busy, too lazy or too confused to pay attention to much of anything but the newest app on their cellphone.

That is not an electorate that is primed to give direction to a dilatory Congress, so 2015 and 2016 promise to bring more of the same.