What Should We Expect From Congress and the Administration Next Year?

By: Victoria Barq, communications manager, AVMA’s governmental relations division

West side view of the Capitol Building, Photo Credits: John de Rosier

If what was said at Thursday’s National Journal post-election panel has any bearing on what political leaders will be doing on Capitol Hill and in the administration next year, it looks like they will be wrangling over what to do about the country’s economic situation. The fiscal crisis is the biggest challenge facing the United States, both in domestic issues and in defense, panelists said this week in Washington, D.C. If the United States does not fix its current economic situation, it will continue to have detrimental effects on Americans and the country’s status among global leaders, they said.

Political gridlock in Congress could not have been more apparent than when discussions of the “fiscal cliff” took place when Congressmen Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) had the floor. Sparring over how Congress should deal with current discussions on the nation’s economic situation, the two pointed fingers at the other side of the aisle for not putting forth more specifics on revenue and spending cuts.

The president has wanted $1.6 trillion in revenue for one year, which is less than Simpson-Bowles, said Rep. Van Hollen. And, the Democrats have a letter that specifically says where the cuts would come from, he said.

Then, Rep. Garrett said pointedly, the Democrats should write it up as legislation, bring it before the House and let us vote on it. He continued, “The Republican Party does not feel that we have a revenue problem, it is a spending problem.”

And where might potential savings in expenditures come from? None other than the Farm Bill, which has seen little movement in the remaining days of the lame duck Congress, but is now becoming a key target in fiscal cliff discussions.

“The Farm Bill could contribute a good chunk of savings,” such as through the elimination of direct payments to farmers, said Rep. Van Hollen. “It could be a major contributor to the formula to avoid going over the fiscal cliff, at least with sequestration.”

The Farm Bill has been brought up in caucus as something that may help with the fiscal cliff, which is a driving force to do something by the end of the year on it, said Rep. Garrett.

Spending cuts are also being felt within the defense budget. Gordon Adams, professor of international relations for the School of International Service at American University and distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center, said, “We are in a defense drawdown. The war budget is already coming down.” He continued that whatever budget deal happens in Congress, defense spending will continue to go down, which is something that has happened throughout history when wars have ended, he explained.

The challenge for cutting defense spending is that the president will still need to articulate and implement an ambitious foreign policy agenda that can be managed over the next 10 years, said others on the foreign policy panel. The key to being able to do this, however, starts with addressing the budget deal, they said, since economic security is front and center for many global leaders in Europe and across the world and is a key indicator to U.S. leadership going forward.

So, what exactly will happen in the coming year in the executive and legislative branches?

David Axelrod, former senior advisor to President Barack Obama, said that we will likely see the president focus on “economic security for the middle class” as part of his second-term legacy. We will also see, he said, continued work on health care reform, education and immigration reform.

To this latter point, Rep. Van Hollen agreed that immigration reform is “ripe for movement” and would make “great sense as a country to address this issue head on.”

On other economic issues, Rep. Garrett said that it is “wishful” to think that Congress will do anything on tax reform. “Congress doesn’t address big issues like that until a crisis occurs,” he said. However, they may be able to work on financial regulatory reform since the Dodd-Frank legislation has opened up a good opportunity to address the issue now, he added.

Others on the panel talked about the need to reinforce higher STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education, which also entails reducing the economic burden on students attending higher-level education. They also discussed the need to continue working on developing energy solutions to reduce the effects of climate change.

The panel, “Where to Begin on Big Issues?,” is part of the National Journal Live’s 2012 election series. For more information, visit the National Journal’s website.

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