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Kicking Off the 114th Congress

January 13, 2015

A new Congress was sworn in on January 6th. Now that the media-driven palace intrigue regarding the Speaker's election is behind us, the House and Senate will start to get to work.

For the first time in eight years, both chambers of Congress are controlled by Republicans. The leadership in the House and Senate want to prove to the American people that they can govern. In that sense, first impressions are important. So, the leadership will instruct the various committee chairmen to move quickly on bipartisan bills that can get through both chambers and on to the President's desk.

A few wins before the cliffs

During the past two sessions of Congress, it seemed like our government was veering from one cliff to another. The fiscal cliffs, the funding cliffs and the debt ceiling cliffs dominated debate and the media's attention. During the lame duck session, Congress tried to clear away these issues as best they could. But, the cliffs are still there, albeit not in the immediate future.

In order to accomplish their goal of a functioning Republican controlled Congress, the House and Senate will have to notch a few wins before the first cliff (Department of Homeland Security Funding) hits in late February. They will focus on the various bipartisan bills that passed the House last Congress but eventually died in the Senate. They took quick action in this regard by once again passing an extension to the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act. They will also vote on authorizing the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Going forward, their focus will be on energy issues, repealing the most unpopular portions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), free trade and initiatives to promote job creation.

The President and the new Congress

If the first few hours of the new Congress are any indication of the next two years, President Obama's relationship with the folks at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue will not improve. President Obama issued two veto warnings for bills that are poised to pass the House and Senate. First, a veto threat came against the bill authorizing the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Soon after, another veto threat was dropped on a bill that would restore the 40-hour work week with the ACA framework. Both of these bills will gain broad bipartisan support and could be the first bills President Obama vetoes since 2010.

The President's initial actions with the new Congress are concerning. He must work with Congress to tackle the long-term problems our country faces. In order to solve some of these pressing issues, a level of trust must be built between Congress and the President. Yes, it is a two-way street, but his executive actions and now veto threats against bipartisan pieces of legislation are further deteriorating an already frayed relationship with Capitol Hill. There is time to mend the current situation, but not much time. 2016 is fast approaching and his allies in Congress will look to their party's nominee (not him) to set their priorities for the last year of this session. Consequently, he has eight to ten months to get anything meaningful accomplished in the final two years of his presidency.

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