Although it’s only Halloween, Congress has fewer than 20 legislative days left between now and the end of the year. Until we get past Thanksgiving, expect lawmakers to keep a low profile on domestic issues, with occasional posturing. After that, the craziness will break loose once again.
For example, if the House leadership is truly serious about bringing forward an immigration bill, many Hill staffers may be burning the midnight oil as they struggle to get themselves and the members home for the holidays.
Meanwhile, a 10-year budget blueprint is due by Dec. 13, an agreement is needed to keep the government funded after Jan. 15, and the debt ceiling limit must be in place by Feb. 7, 2014. There is also escalating pressure from both parties and in both chambers to get Obamacare working or postpone its implementation.
The problem is that in this toxic political environment, a host of international issues will distract the focus from the domestic agenda. The Obama administration is already eager to put the National Security Agency wire-tapping mess behind it. It will need to make acceptable apologies to all the “injured” officials and their countries. While friends and foes alike regularly spy on one another, thanks to Edward Snowden and Wikileaks, the United States got caught with its hands in the cookie jar. Nothing less than a major mea culpa will begin to repair the political and diplomatic damage.
The administration also is being asked to defend a drone policy before an array of congressional committees, which may well find themselves more comfortable pointing fingers than developing bipartisan guidelines for the future use of drones. This discussion is also connected with the continuing debate over how to deal with the Guantanamo detainees, and the nature and timing of the United States’ departure from Afghanistan, which also need to be decided before the year’s end.
And then there are the continuing Geneva talks between the P5 + 1 and Iran. The status of Iranian nuclear development and the Western economic sanctions is probably the most critical foreign policy focus in Washington. While many sources pointed to progress in the most recent rounds, it remains to be seen whether it will be sustained when talks resume next week.
Despite talk of progress, the White House faces a growing effort in the Senate to follow the House in pushing for even stronger sanctions. The rationale is that only hard sanctions will produce genuine progress, a position that Washington is also hearing from Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Are we there yet? Hardly. Janet Yellen is likely to win approval as the new head of the Fed, but the hearings will undoubtedly be an opportunity for lawmakers to revisit the budget battle and the government shutdown. Throw in the Benghazi hearings, the looming deadline on the Syrian weapons inspections, and the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, and it seems that there won’t be much holiday spirit in our nation’s capital. In fact, if the HealthCare.gov website is not operating effectively by the end of November, everyone in Washington might well be wishing that the government was still shut down.