Now that 2013 is in the books, let’s look at some of the political stories we expect to dominate 2014.
Yes, the unexpected will happen (who could have predicted the emergence of Carlos Danger?) But no matter what, believe that these stories will draw the attention of voters this year.
1. Debt ceiling fight
This past holiday season was a peaceful one in the nation’s capital. Lawmakers broke a fiscal stalemate and reached a bipartisan budget deal that averted a government shutdown. But the deal did not address the nation’s debt limit.
Come early March, the U.S. government will reach the debt limit. President Obama has said repeatedly he won’t negotiate over raising the debt ceiling, but congressional Republicans are expected to try and extract fiscal concessions from Democrats. The party’s over folks, get ready for another partisan showdown.
2. Immigration reform
At the beginning of last year, the prospects for immigration reform seemed bright. Republicans were looking for a way to reach out to Latino voters after taking a drubbing in the 2012 election, and cooperating on an immigration law seemed like a good way to start. The Senate passed a sweeping overhaul in June 2013, with Republican and Democratic votes. But the GOP-controlled House failed to hold a floor vote on any immigration proposal.
Advocates haven’t given up their fight. They’re still demanding Congress pass a bill this year. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) says he’s still committed to the issue. His hiring of a prominent immigration adviser gave advocates hope he’s serious. And in his end-of-2013 news conference, Obama said he believes the Speaker.
But cobbling together enough support from the fractious GOP conference for an immigration reform package, especially one that deals with the nation’s 11.7 million undocumented immigrants, could prove difficult for Boehner. If reform stalls, expect advocates to increase pressure on the White House to take executive action to stem deportations.
3. Obamacare deadline
March 31, 2014 is the last day for uninsured Americans to sign up for health coverage under the president’s healthcare law. If they don’t they could face fines and penalties for not obtaining insurance.
The date is also symbolic of the Affordable Care Act’s rocky rollout. It had to be pushed back from February due to the website glitches that plagued the federal insurance exchange. Those glitches and other problems with implementation have hurt perceptions of the law and President Obama’s standing among potential voters. Between now and March, the Obama administration will have to show that enough people are enrolling for coverage in order to turn those perceptions around.
4. Midterm elections
All of these issues could have a major impact on this year’s midterms. Republicans are looking to take control of the Senate, and they’ll need to win six seats to do so. They also want to defend their majority in the House (Democrats would need to take 17 seats to flip control).
Expect Republicans to use Obamacare’s struggles as a political weapon against vulnerable Democratic incumbents, especially those who are running in red states like Sen. Mark Pryor in Arkansas and Sen. Mary Landrieu in Louisiana.
But if Republicans overplay their hand in the debt ceiling battle, like they did during last year’s government shutdown, Democrats could use that to their advantage. And if Republicans continue to stall on immigration reform, Democrats could use that to target GOP incumbents in Hispanic-heavy districts, like Mike Coffman in Colorado.
It’s about to get ugly, folks.
5. State of the Union
Coming off his reelection in 2012, President Obama offered a sweeping liberal vision of government in his 2013 State of the Union address. But the struggles his administration has encountered in launching the Affordable Care Act have caused Americans to question whether the government can actually do big things that can improve their lives.
In his State of the Union address on January 28, it will be up to Obama to defend that vision in the face of adversity.
Geneva Sands is a Washington, D.C.-based producer/editor focused on national affairs and politics. Egg creams, Raleigh and pie are three of her favorite things.
Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.