Policy: Labor

Midterm elections shape congressional agenda

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Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,Labor,Republican Party,Democratic Party,2014 Elections,PennAve,Economy,Minimum Wage,Magazine

With spring approaching, the snow is finally thawing in Washington. But lawmakers are hunkering down, ready to hibernate in the Capitol for the next eight months, doing as little as possible as a critical election nears.

Congress is notorious for its inactivity in election years, and 2014 figures to be no different.

Republicans want to hold their healthy majority in the House while Senate Democrats are desperate to maintain their own slim advantage. Neither side is eager to take up major legislation that might divide their own party or hurt vulnerable lawmakers.

A case in point: House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said it would be “difficult” to move immigration reform and pulled the plug. Boehner said House Republicans did not trust Obama, but it's more likely the GOP wanted to keep attention on the troubled Obamacare rollout -- which hurts Democrats in the polls -- instead of on immigration, an issue which divides Republicans.

“We are entering a time when it’s very unlikely that anything big gets done,” Nathan L. Gonzales, deputy editor of The Rothenberg Political Report, told the Washington Examiner.

“As we get closer to election day, vulnerable senators are going to want to spend more time in their states, talking to their voters and trying to focus on their own race. They are not going to want to be in D.C. hashing out legislation.”

While lawmakers will try to steer clear of anything controversial, both parties’ agendas include politically motivated measures that have no chance of passage.

Democrats hope to play “offense” with the GOP by distracting voter attention from Obamacare and focusing it on “income inequality” -- a theme they have been pushing since November.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is planning to take up legislation to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour. Reid, before leaving for the Presidents' Day recess, promised the Senate will consider a minimum wage bill “in the weeks ahead.”

The legislation has no chance of becoming law because House Republican leaders won't take up the measure out of concerns it will hurt job growth. But a minimum wage bill would put political pressure on the GOP, as polls show a significant majority of voters favor an increase.

“When it comes time to consider Democrats’ minimum wage proposal, Republicans will again have to choose between standing up for middle-class families and resorting to more partisan obstruction,” Reid said.

Reid will also continue to take up legislation to extend federal unemployment benefits, which expired in December and which the GOP has blocked repeatedly over concerns with the program's cost.

Democratic strategist Christopher Hahn said Reid is smart to promote legislation that puts the GOP in a political corner.

“Harry Reid has to just keep pushing the populist agenda that President Obama promoted in his State of the Union address,” Hahn said. “It's hard to argue against raising the minimum wage. The majority of Americans support it.”

The Democrats' minimum wage push was complicated last week by a new report from the Congressional Budget Office that predicted it would raise some out of poverty but cost other workers their jobs.

The House, meanwhile, will play offense against Democrats by voting on a series of bills that respond to the Internal Revenue Service targeting scandal as well as President Obama's use of executive action to bypass Congress.

“The House will consider another package of bills to address government abuse that is threatening people’s liberty and their hard-earned paychecks,” Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said. “The House will act to hold the Obama Administration accountable for its continual overreach.”

Among the bills the House will consider is H.R. 899, the Unfunded Mandates Information and Transparency Act of 2013. The bill would require the federal government to determine the costs and benefits of new regulations and would require alternative solutions if the cost is more than $100 million.

“House Republicans want an agenda to run on in 2014,” Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak told the Examiner. “In addition to pounding Obamacare and the weak economy … issues like balancing the budget, trade, tax reform, and fighting regulations offer them that opportunity.”

“But since it’s an election year, little will get done,” he said.

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