current affairs

Washington DC: The US in midterm election mode

It was only the first Monday of the new year, and the sub-headline of that day’s USA Today newspaper spelled out the toxic nature of politics in the United States capital—“Barbs a

It was only the first Monday of the new year, and the sub-headline of that day’s USA Today newspaper spelled out the toxic nature of politics in the United States capital—“Barbs already flying as lawmakers return,” as President Barack Obama and members of Congress returned to Washington to resume work after the Christmas holiday, in a year that may likely change the course of current policy.

Appeal to voters

2014 is the year of midterm elections in the US—all seats in the House of Representatives are up for election, as well as one third of the seats in the Senate. Therefore, when it comes to the work at hand, legislators hope to sell their support for pieces of legislation to voters ahead of November’s elections.

Republicans have the majority in the House of Representatives, while Democrats have the majority in the Senate. Obama would be midway through his second term—he is only allowed to serve two terms under laws in the country’s Constitution.

The first task at hand is addressing an extension of unemployment benefits, and the measure that would authorise their renewal, co-sponsored by Democrat Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Republican Senator Dean Heller of Nevada.

Honesty or a stall tactic?

A vote was scheduled in the Senate for last night, but was postponed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, after a call to do so by Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas because of the weather conditions which had caused some Republican senators not to be in Washington for the vote that specific evening. “If this was anything other than a political exercise, then the majority leader would have rescheduled this vote,” Cornyn said according to a report from the Los Angeles Times. “This ought to be postponed.”

Yet, according to the Times, speculation on the delay of the procedural vote came from leaders of the Democrats, who thought the call by Cornyn was a stall tactic. Many of the House Republicans do not support their extension, though voters do, the report adds.

The vote on the benefits, which expired late in December, is due to be held later Tuesday, and Obama is due to speak on the need for their extension prior to the vote, the Times report adds.

A toxic climate

The approach to this and other topics, especially spending, where, according to USA Today, a bill to authorise spending of the government must be passed by 15 January to avoid a repeat of the shutdown of government services experienced in October, have increased division on Capitol Hill. The benefits run a cost of $26 billion (£15.8 billion), the report adds.

Congressional Republicans have advocated that more cuts should be made, including the easing regulations, which Republican congressman Peter King of New York described some of them as burdensome, in an interview with the American broadcaster CBS.

Republican congressman Matt Salmon of Arizona said in a CBS interview if cuts were proposed to fund the extension, Majority Leader Reid “might find some people that are willing to talk with him.”

Reid, speaking to CBS, said Republicans did not represent the interest of voters. “Republicans in Congress have to get away from being a Republican in Congress,” Reid said, as quoted by USA Today. “They are just out of touch with what’s going on in America today.”

On the subject of the unemployment benefits, Gene Sperling, Obama’s top economic adviser, in an interview with the American broadcaster NBC, said there should not be conditions attached to this extension, and said 14 of the last 17 times the extension was passed, there were no conditions with it, the report adds.

With this debate over unemployment benefits, seen to be at the top of the discussions this week in Washington, this may set the tone of the actions of Congress ahead of November’s elections, and with their constituents watching the events unfold, it is likely they will remember this when going to the ballot box.

However, can America’s politicians impress the voters well enough to be re-elected? We’ll know ten months from now, on the night the votes are cast, and perhaps the climate of Washington faces significant reform.

What do you think? Can American politicians agree on issues? Or is the focus on the midterm elections? Have your say in the comments section below.

Image: eGuide Travel / Flickr