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February 26, 2014

2014 Mid-Term Elections: Itís Showtime!

Patrick W. Allen

This already famously unproductive Congress will spend the less than 80 days they plan to be in session until Election Day debating purely political measures designed to have more impact on the ballot box than actual policy.


Welcome to the 2014 mid-term campaign season.


As with any other campaign season, wedge issues rule.  Most House and Senate floor speeches are delivered to be featured in campaign videos or advertisements. “Shocking” and “outrageous” behavior is escalated so as to gain earned media, primary street credibility and successful Internet money bombs...cue Michele Bachmann, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and the rest of the right-wing out to lunch, bunch.


We have entered the “silly season” of politics, a term coined in Britain in 1861 to define the frivolous news written when Parliament was not in session – or in the American case, in session but not working on anything substantive.


Barring any new developments and October surprises, the following rhetorical debates, show-vote bills and political issues will fill the legislative calendar and echo throughout the legislative chambers in the coming months.


Affordable Care Act. The House has voted 48 times to repeal or amend part or all of the Affordable Care Act (nee Obamacare).


The last time was on January 16 with the Exchange Information Disclosure Act, which would require the Department of Health and Human Services to produce weekly reports on the state of enrollment in the health exchanges both online and by phone. Of course, the Democrat-controlled Senate has no plans to take up the measure.


Given that the GOP is betting that Obamacare will hang around Democrats’ necks like an albatross, votes 49 and 50 are already in the works.


Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi. For Republicans, this is a popular issue with their base, so they will keep attempting to extract documents, testimony and embarrassment over the attack from the current administration.


Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham are leading the attack, demanding further investigations and placing holds on presidential nominees to extract action. For defense Republicans – especially those like South Carolina’s Graham who are up for re-election in military-heavy states – the more they talk about their perceived Obama Administration foreign policy weaknesses, the better they do at the polls.


Women and Their Lady Business. This is one of those rare wedge issues that cuts both ways. House Republicans passed the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act on January 28. The bill cuts off taxpayer funding for abortions. How selectively often Republicans forget the laws already on the books.


Taxpayers, specifically federal tax dollars, don’t actually directly fund abortions.


But Republicans get two hits out of this.

First, they drum up support with social conservatives.

Second, they highlight a January 24 Supreme Court decision to exempt some groups from an Affordable Care Act requirement that all insurance plans cover contraception.

So, it’s a two-for-one for Republicans: Abortion and the Affordable Care Act.


However, bills like this give Democrats fodder to accuse Republicans of waging a war on women – an issue which proved to be a winner for Democrats in 2012 after two Republican senatorial candidates made extreme remarks on rape and abortion that helped propel their Democratic opponents to victory.


Poverty. These days it seems like both sides of the aisle are obsessed with poverty.


With the economy still struggling and the lower middle class feeling especially pinched these days – as Majority Leader Eric Cantor (VA) pointed out in a recent op-ed piece, median household income is lower today than it was in 2000 – saying you’re going to help is a popular populist sentiment for both parties.


The “I’m Lookin’ Out For The Poor” debate will give both sides endless C-SPAN hours to talk about their efforts.


While Republicans are working hard to make this an issue that cuts both ways, Democrats have the historical advantage on poverty and have made it the centerpiece of their 2014 strategy. Democrats argue that Republicans can’t be taken seriously on poverty when they don’t want to spend money to help the poor.


Both sides say that they have a plan. So, the plans will remain just that: plans to campaign on.


Immigration Reform. Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York came out in favor of a discharge petition in the House for the Senate-passed immigration reform bill.


While the bill would almost certainly pass the House with majority Democratic support along with a few centrist Republicans, such a vote would outrage the vast majority of the Republican conference.


House Speaker John Boehner (R. OH) laid out GOP principles on immigration last month, hoping to inoculate his members from at least some Latino wrath at their inaction, but his conference has little appetite to act before the 2014 elections.


Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Remember that scandal where the Internal Revenue Service was supposedly auditing or dragging its feet to give tax-exempt status to Tea Party groups to extract political revenge for the groups’ work against President Barack Obama?


Even though it turns out that Democratic groups were also targeted, and denied tax-exempt status, there is no chance the right-wing stoked teapot tempest is going to go away ahead of this year’s midterms.


Case in point – Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, has called for a special investigator to be appointed on the issue. Surely, during floor debates of IRS bills making their way through the legislative pipeline, dozens of Republicans will go to the floor to lambaste the IRS and the president for partisan collusion and abuse of big government – speeches readymade for television ads.


Keystone XL Pipeline. For years, Republicans have tried to force President Obama to approve this pipeline from Canada’s oil sand deposits. For years, the president has resisted, citing a pending environmental impact study.


Republicans say the pipeline will create thousands of jobs. Environmental groups say those jobs are short-term and would come at the cost of the environment. The study finally came through last month, showing the pipeline would have little environmental impact and clearing the way for the Obama Administration to approve it.


If that happens in the next nine months, it takes away the issue for Republicans.


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