The new year is less than three months away.
But before 2014 begins, there are plenty of questions to be answered in the realm of politics, some of which will speak volumes about what the coming year will look like. Below we give you the five biggest things we are watching.
1. Can the GOP establishment overcome cast-iron conservatives’ desire for a confrontation?
The longer this budget situation persists, the more it seems the conservative wing of the GOP isn’t going to get what it wants. At first, it insisted that any budget include no funding for Obamacare. Since then, House Republicans have voted for a bill that would do just that – and it went nowhere in the Senate. Now these groups are apparently content to allow a so-called “clean” increase in the debt limit. It’s clear this faction of the GOP is pushing ideas that are broadly unpopular, but it still wields power as long as GOP members of Congress are worried about pleasing their base and not losing their primaries. House GOP leaders would love to overcome these cast-iron conservatives in the current debate and set the tone for the future ones. To the extent that people like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) marginalize themselves with their efforts, the GOP establishment can point to that and say, ‘Hey, let’s not do that again.’
2. Can the White House set a precedent for future budget negotiations?
The current budget standstill is as much about the GOP insisting on concessions as it is about the White House trying to send a message – a message that it will accept nothing but so-called “clean” bills to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling. The theory is that if the administration can hold out longer and win this battle cleanly (so to speak), it would set a precedent for future debates and prevent Republicans from trying to use the debt limit and the budget to make other changes. The stakes in the current debate are only raised because the White House sees it as a precedent-setter. The question is whether conservatives will be duly chastened or emboldened by the final outcome. It’s not clear that the White House is going to get exactly what it wants in this regard, but in the end, it’s still about who gets more.
3. Who will win the Virginia governor's race?
Polls show Democrat Terry McAuliffe has the upper hand with less than a month to go until election day. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) has been outspent on the airwaves and is running out of time to shift the momentum. If McAuliffe wins, it will be a testament to Democrats' understanding of how to win in the key swing state, even in a non-presidential year. President Obama won Virginia twice and McAuliffe has in many ways modeled his own campaign on the president's success. A McAuliffe victory would also buck the decades-long trend of the party that won the White House losing the Virginia governor's race the following year. Cuccinelli's last best chance to shift the tide might be an Oct. 24 debate.
4. How long will the government shutdown last and how much blame will Republicans shoulder?
It's clear so far that the shutdown has been bad news for Republicans. Polls show they are absorbing more of the blame, and the party's overall image has taken a big hit,. The silver lining for the GOP is that the blame game isn't as one sided as it was during the 1995-1996 shutdowns. The question is whether that will remain the case -- especially if the current shutdown -- now in its 11th day -- drags on. There is a long time between October of 2013 and the midterms of November of 2014, so it remains to be seen how much the shutdown will color voters' views, but so far, it simply hasn't been good news for Republicans.
5. Will the fiscal debates sideline the immigration debate for the rest of the year?
For much of the year, the big legislative question has been whether Congress would pass comprehensive immigration reform. The Senate passed a sweeping package but since then, the House has been slow to act. The drawn-out debates over the debt ceiling and the budget have shoved aside every other issue on Capitol Hill in recent weeks. And with talk of short-term deals that are sure to resurrect these debates toward the end of the year, immigration may not come to the fore in the House again this year. Why is that significant? Because the closer we get to the 2014 elections, the less likely it is that lawmakers -- particularly House Republicans -- will put their weight behind immigration proposals that have proven controversial among some conservative voters.