Jamie Dupree - WSB Radio

Congress kicks off 2014 session

As lawmakers in Congress return to work this week for 2014, Democrats and Republicans are already less than 10 months away from key mid-term elections, as political concerns are certain to color the debates on Capitol Hill in coming months on a variety of issues.

The Senate will start things off this week by voting on the nomination of Janet Yellen to head the Federal Reserve; while her choice should receive strong bipartisan support, don’t look for Congress to repeat that on a lot of other issues this year.

For example, right after that Monday evening vote on Yellen, Senate Democrats want to take the first procedural step on a bill that extends expiring long term jobless benefits.

Republicans have been cool to the idea, as some GOP lawmakers have demanded offsetting budget cuts to pay for the plan.

“Instead of punishing families who can least afford it, Republicans should make it their New Year’s resolution to do the right thing, and restore this vital economic security for their constituents right now,” President Obama said in his weekend radio address.

Mr. Obama will certainly be able to use his State of the Union Address on January 28 to plug a number of domestic issues; while he says 2014 should be a “year of action” in the Congress – we’ll see.

Expect both the President and Democrats to keep up the heat on Republicans over immigration reform legislation; at some point, Speaker John Boehner seems likely to bring a bill to the House floor on the issue, but the details still aren’t clear.

As for Republicans, a centerpiece of their legislative agenda in 2014 will certainly be oversight – and continued opposition – to the Obama health law.

GOP lawmakers will bring a bill to the House floor this week dealing with security worries on the healthcare.gov website.

But there is no timetable for any GOP plan that would fully repeal the current the President’s signature legislative achievement.

GOP activists are convinced that the health law could well be their ticket to victory in the mid-term elections; time will tell whether that issue will remain as troublesome for Democrats and the President in early November.

Regardless of what Republicans do in Congress, action by the U.S. Supreme Court will keep the health law in the news, as arguments are expected in March on a challenge to the law’s contraceptive coverage mandate; the Court was asked last week by the feds to lift a temporary injunction blocking enforcement of that mandate.

When it comes to spending, GOP lawmakers would also like to focus on budget cutting – but it’s not as clear if they will be able to push ahead with significant reforms in government spending in the wake of last month’s budget deal.

Since the GOP won back the House in 2010, House Republicans have not come close to passing the dozen yearly spending bills that set out priorities in the Executive Branch, though their record is better than the big “zero” that have been approved in the Senate.

Will 2014 be any different?

One thing lawmakers must approve by January 15 – next week – is a giant omnibus funding bill for the rest of this fiscal year; we may get the details of that measure later this week.

There will be another battle over the debt limit in coming months – President Obama has said he won’t negotiate on any budget changes, while Republicans say reforms are a must for any debt limit increase.

As for the elections, it’s hard to know what this year will bring. Both sides are demanding change, but at this point Republicans are strongly favored to hold the House, while the future of the Senate remains a tossup.

Already, 22 House members won’t be back a year from now, as 13 are running for another office and 9 are retiring – 16 of the House 22 are GOP lawmakers.

In the Senate, 6 Senators have decided not to run for re-election; four are Democrats and two are Republicans. Most of the trouble for Democrats comes for those running for re-election, as the GOP has a number of chances to grab back seats in 2014.

The best chance for a GOP pickup in the Senate right now seems to be in South Dakota; Democrats think their best chance to win a GOP seat may be in Georgia.

Buckle up. It should be a fun year.