Lawmakers were facing several divisive policy fights when they returned to Washington last month. Republican leaders in both chambers will be put to the test as they seek to protect their vulnerable incumbents and put forward a legislative agenda aimed at the general election. The challenge is particularly acute for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is trying to protect his 54-seat majority on an election year map that clearly favors Democrats. The following are some issues that will result in some fights for the lawmakers in the New Year.
Legislation over refugees – this being an elective year – will be involved in both the House and Senate. The Senate will have round two in its battle over refugees. Republican lawmakers have called for blocking President Obama’s plan to resettle up to 10,000 Syrian refugees. Sen. McConnell has pledged to take up legislation dealing with the refugee acceptance program during the first quarter of 2016, though it’s unclear what the proposal will contain. The GOP leader has already put a House-passed bill on the Senate calendar that would restrict Syrian and Iraqi refugees, meaning it could come up for a vote. But the House bill has received fierce pushback from Senate Democrats. Sen. Dick Durbin, the Democratic whip, suggested that the “fevered pitch” that surrounded the bill when it passed in November has subsided. “It doesn’t stand up to reason that we’re focusing on 70,000 people that are vetted for two years,” Sen. Durbin said. He believes Senate Democrats would be able to block the refugee bill from getting the 60 votes needed to move forward.
The immigration issue will result in lots of politically motivated legislation. This is an election year issue and one that won’t go away. Hopefully some of what’s proposed will be constructive.
Guantanámo Bay and ISIS
As President Obama heads into his final year in the White House, lawmakers are poised to review two of his foreign policy priorities: fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and closing Guantanámo Bay. Speaker Paul Ryan suggested before Christmas that Congress could take a second look at passing a war powers resolution against ISIS. The President says he already has the legal authority to fight ISIS, but has pushed Congress for an explicit authorization that would update the language passed after the 9/11 attacks. While both parties have expressed support for an ISIS resolution, no one has put forward a proposal that has been able to overcome the deep divisions on the war.
Separately, a battle is brewing between congressional Republicans and the Obama administration on closing the prison at Guantanámo Bay. The administration is preparing a plan to close the prison camp, but Republicans say it is effectively dead on arrival. To underscore their stance, Republicans have sent multiple bills to the president’s desk – including an end-of-the-year spending bill – that would block the administration from moving the detainees to any prison in the United States.
Democrats are pushing new gun control legislation following a series of mass shootings in 2015. Senate Democrats are pledging to force a vote on several gun control proposals, including expanding background checks and closing the gun show “loophole.”
Criminal justice reform
Supporters of a bipartisan Senate proposal to overhaul the criminal justice system are hopeful that the legislation can reach the floor in early 2016. The Obama administration has sought to keep momentum behind the issue, including meeting with House and Senate lawmakers to discuss the proposals put forward.
Congressional leaders have pledged to restore “regular order” in 2016, meaning that both chambers would pass 12 individual spending bills and then work out their differences in conference.
Election Year Issues
There will be all sorts of problems arising from the fact that 2016 is an election year. Most say that will keep anything of consequence wanted by the Obama Administration from passing. Hopefully, this year will be an exception. The GOP should want a productive session because of their fear that Donald Trump will be the nominee for the party. But the further he goes the stronger Trump gets, so that should make the GOP bosses very nervous.
There will be many other battles in the next eight months in Congress – due to this being an election year – and many of them will be political in nature. Hopefully, the peoples’ interest will be considered in Congress throughout that time right up to the General Election. Of course, when I think about it, most everything in Congress is politically motivated.
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