Congressional elections will drive debate on Capitol Hill

It won’t take long for DEMOCRATS and Republicans in Congress to carve out their positions on issues they think will resonate with the voters in this year’s congressional races. The GOP believes it not only can retain its majority in the House of Representatives, but could take over the Senate by characterizing the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — as a brazen attempt by President Obama and his Democratic colleagues on Capitol Hill at social engineering.

Democrats, striving to retain control of the Senate and perhaps win more seats in the House, will attempt to diffuse the Obamacare debate by pointing to the 1 million-plus Americans who signed on before the end of last month. They will also try to redirect the debate to other hot-button issues, including the extension of jobless benefits for the 1.3 million who lost them on Dec. 28; immigration reform, which the Republican leadership in the House has refused to consider even though legislation passed the Senate with Republican support; and income inequality.

The bottom line is that this year’s election will drive the agenda on Capitol Hill, which means very little of substance will get done because of divided government.

There was a glimmer of bipartisanship when a budget deal — albeit a modest one — was approved late last year. It ensures there won’t be another shut down of the federal government for two years. In 2013, most government operations ground to a halt from Oct. 1 to 16 because Republicans refused to work with the White House and Democrats on Capitol Hill.

President Obama, whose approval rating has been dropping like a rock since the mistake-filled rollout of Obamacare, is indulging in a heavy dose of political wishful thinking if he believes the GOP will do anything to help him further his agenda or to give him a victory of any kind.

The party does not view him as a political threat and is confident of preserving its majority in the House. Why? Because many congressional districts are safely Republican as a result of boundaries being drawn by GOP-controlled state governments after the 2010 population census .

In fact, despite winning re-election in 2012, Obama will be the candidate Republicans run against this year. He has become a lightning rod not only because of Obamacare, but because he has been successfully portrayed by his critics as wanting to dismantle capitalism.

Presidential election

In Ohio, which will be watched closely because of the role it will play in the 2016 presidential election, the GOP controls every statewide office, from governor on down. The Democratic Party is hoping the attack on the public employees unions by Gov. John Kasich and the Republican-controlled General Assembly will energize its base in the November general election.

There’s also the possibility that a right-to-work constitutional amendment will be on the ballot, which would further ignite the passions of Democrats.

But, Obamacare looms large, and Democratic candidates are already being challenged to say whether they support the controversial initiative.

Given what’s at stake politically, the do-nothing Congress of 2013 will have a repeat performance this year.

But that does not mean the president and Democrats in the Senate and the House should give up on the issues they deem important to the American people.

The extension of jobless benefits, immigration reform, raising of the debt ceiling and an increase in the minimum wage should, at the very least, be debated in Congress.

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