Many of the big stories of 2013 will continue to dominate the headlines in the New Year. Look for another budget showdown next month when it comes time to raise the debt ceiling. House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) has indicated it will be a bargaining chip for the GOP to cut spending it doesn’t like, presumably starting with the Affordable Care Act. President Obama announced during his year-end press conference that the debt ceiling is not negotiable. The last time he did that, he won. Can he do it again? Republicans are still smarting from their—financially and politically — costly government shutdown in October and may be reluctant even to threaten a repeat. But Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the pied piper who led House Republicans over that cliff, thinks it was a great success. Will anyone be listening if he tries it again?
Republicans have already said they want to make opposition to Obamacare the central issue in the 2014 congressional elections. They’ve got plenty of ammo from the botched rollout, but if enrollments keep growing and the program is functioning smoothly by late summer, it could be a tough sell, but they’ll keep at it. They’ve helped make sure the program has a bad image – and they had help from the folks responsible for the web site.
Immigration reform is still on the agenda. Look for House Republicans to try to carve up the comprehensive bill passed by the Senate and pick and choose pieces they like, and then rewrite them. High on their list: beefed up border security. At the bottom: path to citizenship.
The Middle East will continue to dominate foreign policy headlines. Syria’s civil war shows no signs of ending, and the death toll keeps rising along with the threat of spillover into neighboring countries Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel. And all of President Bashar Assad’s chemical and biological weapons have not been removed yet.
Egypt’s turmoil is less bloody but no less critical to U.S. and Israeli interests.
Secretary of State John Kerry is returning to the region this week, his 10th visit since restarting talks during the summer, and he is said to be carrying American bridging proposals to try to close some of the wide gaps between the two sides.
Nuclear negotiations with Iran are hitting some snags, starting with terms for implementing the November Geneva Accords. In Washington, the administration is trying to block congressional passage of new sanctions during the negotiations, and in Tehran the hardliners have apparently won a role at the talks, which will only make any agreement — already in trouble — even tougher.
Meanwhile the rift between Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Obama administration will continue to grow on both the Palestinian track and the Iranian track, with the PM accusing the Americans of being too willing to compromise with Tehran and too demanding of Jerusalem.
For more on some of these issues, see my Washington Watch column.