Good times ahead! It is going to be a rollicking year, with Republicans set to take power with 54 Senate seats and the largest House majority they have enjoyed in many decades. Here are a few things to watch for:

1) Will the improving economy and falling deficit influence GOP policy goals in the slightest? The Associated Press puts the question (and answer) well: No.

Gas prices and unemployment are down while economic growth and consumer confidence are up as a once-stagnant economy is humming. Will the so-called Obama recovery force a GOP Congress to recalibrate, abandoning the 2011 budget pact and its across-the-board spending cuts that took a significant chunk out of the deficit?
No. Even though the $483 billion deficit for 2014 was the smallest since President George W. Bush’s last full year in office, the GOP is determined to cut spending and rein in the reach of the federal government.

So get ready for another push later this year for deep spending cuts at exactly the moment when the recovery is gaining steam. Indeed, look for Republicans to claim a mandate for this by arguing that the economy is picking up thanks to increased confidence due to the GOP takeover of Congress.

2) Will Republicans institute ‘voodoo’ economics? Related to the above: All signs are that Republicans are going to try to foist “dynamic scoring,” i.e., a way to game budget math so tax cuts pay for themselves, onto the neutral Congressional Budget Office. This will, of course, make it easier to push for a reduction in high end tax rates while also keeping up the vow of a balanced budget. Which means still more Paul Ryan-style budgetary hocus-pocus.

3) Is a compromise on infrastructure spending really a possibility? Many media accounts tell us that Republicans see three areas of compromise with Obama: Trade, tax reform, and infrastructure spending. Trade appears real; tax reform less so. As for infrastructure, such a compromise would probably require Republicans to agree to new revenues for new spending. Color me skeptical.

4) What will Senate GOP moderates do? Mitch McConnell informs us that he wants to show that Republicans can offer a “responsible, right-of-center governing majority.” And yet, we’re likely to get more votes to repeal Obamacare, and McConnell himself is also hinting at future plans to use government funding bills to attack previously achieved Obama policy gains, such as the health law, environmental regulations, and Wall Street oversight. Meanwhile, conservatives will demand standoffs around the debt ceiling and to roll back Obama’s executive action on deportations. And Obama is planning a range of other executive actions in 2015, which will only further goad conservatives into demanding maximum confrontation.

A number of Republican Senators are up for reelection in 2016 in states Obama has carried — some of which are also key presidential swing states. Will they really want multiple Obamacare repeal votes and more reckless brinksmanship defined largely around opposition to Obama? Conservatives will claim the 2014 elections gave Republicans a mandate for scorched earth tactics against the president’s agenda. But we’re playing on a 2016 map now, and the conduct of GOP Senators up in 2016 will offer clues to the real state of public opinion on that map.


* NEW GOP MAJORITY SET TO SPRING INTO ACTION: Carl Hulse has a useful overview of the incoming GOP majority’s immediate agenda: Republicans will move this week to expedite Keystone and a proposal to tweak the definition of the workweek in the Affordable Care Act. Hulse notes they want to “show they can govern”:

Republicans have significant incentive to rack up some victories. They will be judged on their legislative performance in the 2016 elections, a presidential year when voters may be less friendly to the Republicans than they were last fall. Republicans will have twice as many Senate seats on the ballot as the Democrats will, including swing states like Illinois, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

But, as Hulse also notes, confrontations around the debt limit and federal spending bills also look very likely. And so, as noted above, the question is whether these 2016 Senators will really want the GOP majority to go down that path.

* GOP SET FOR MAJOR STANDOFF OVER HOMELAND SECURITY: Also from the above piece, Republicans are set to renew their effort to block Obama’s executive action on deportations:

On immigration, House Republican officials say they expect to approve a Department of Homeland Security spending measure before the end of January that would deny money to carry out Mr. Obama’s action to ease the threat of deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants.

There is already some question about whether this tactic actually gives Republicans real leverage. But that aside, it remains to be seen how aggressively they will pursue a strategy that risks saddling them with blame for shutting down Homeland Security, all in pursuit of maximum deportations.

* CONSERVATIVES TO DEMAND ALL-OUT WAR ON DEPORTATIONS: Meanwhile, Politico reports that conservative lawmakers are unlikely to be satisfied with anything less than Total War scorched earth tactics to block Obama’s action on deportations. Note this telling Ted Cruz quote:

“If Republicans stand united in January or February and use the constitutional check and balance, the power of the purse, to stop President Obama’s illegal amnesty, nobody will be happier than I.”

If Republicans don’t succeed here, it will only be because they didn’t remain sufficiently united and determined in the face of Obama’s lawlessness. Remember: Ted Cruz’s tactics can never fail; they can only be failed by the fecklessness of GOP leaders.

 * 2016 GOP PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY ESCALATES: Chris Cillizza has a useful overview of the latest developments: Jeb Bush has resigned from all boards, leaving Republicans convinced he’s in. Mike Huckabee said over the weekend that he’s seriously considering a run, and Huckabee can’t be underestimated, because he has a stronger base of support among Evangelicals than any other candidate.

And yes, Ted Cruz really is going to launch his own bid any day now.

* BOEHNER TO BE REELECTED AS SPEAKER: He is all but certain to be reelected, but a few indefatigable Tea Party types — Louis Gohmert and Ted Yoho — are running against him, and appear to have a few supporters, to boot! As the Hill delicately puts it, Boehner will prevail, but it won’t be “drama free.”

After all, this is the GOP-controlled House we’re talking about here.

* DEMS VOW TO FIGHT ‘VOODOO’ ECONOMICS: As noted above, Republicans are likely to try to foist “dynamic scoring” on the neutral CBO, by pushing for the ouster of CBO chief Douglas Elmendorf. Democrats are pushing back on the move, arguing that it will undermine the office’s neutrality and make it easier for Republicans to game their budgets to “hide the true costs of tax cuts or make critical government lending programs for students, veterans, small businesses, and others appear more costly than they actually are.”

* EVALUATING OBAMA’S ECONOMY: Paul Krugman tries to set the record straight on the President’s economic performance and the real role of government spending when it comes to the recovery, which is now gaining steam. Krugman notes that the stimulus did, in fact, help mitigate the crisis and that GOP opposition actually led to a reversal in federal spending that subsequently held back the recovery, adding:

Even if you think Mr. Obama deserves little or no credit for good economic news, the fact is his opponents have spent years claiming that his bad attitude — he has been known to suggest, now and then, that some bankers have behaved badly — is somehow responsible for the economy’s weakness. Now that he’s presiding over unexpected economic strength, they can’t just turn around and assert his irrelevance.

They can’t? Why not? Indeed, how long until the notion that the recovery is all due to increased confidence stemming from the GOP takeover of Congress becomes an article of faith inside the Conservative Entertainment Complex?

As the GOP takes control of Congress, what legislative items are on the agenda? Here's a look at three policies Senate Republicans are likely to tackle in the new session. (Julie Percha/The Washington Post)