Analysts say gridlock in Congress can’t get any worse in 2014

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Analysts are optimistic that 2014 will be a more productive, less partisan year in Washington.

One of the least productive congresses in history ended 2013 on a high note with a bipartisan budget deal that many hoped would lead to more cooperation in the new year, when lawmakers will tackle immigration reform, a new farm bill, a fix to part of the budget deal that cuts payments to disabled military retirees, an extension of long-term unemployment benefits and increasing the debt ceiling in February.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, predicted that the gridlock will subside in Washington next year, beginning with the fight over the debt ceiling.

“I don’t think there’s any political reason why they’ll fight over this, at least not to the degree that they have in the past,” he said Wednesday on CNN. “While it won’t be painless, it’ll feel a lot better this time.”

Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said this month that members of his caucus were meeting to discuss what they hope to get out of an increase in the debt ceiling. Democrats, however, are insisting that the debt ceiling be increased in a clean deal, without any unrelated demands.

A similar fight in which Democrats asked for a clean budget deal while Republicans demanded the end of Obamacare was what led to the 16-day partial government shutdown in October.

“We, as a caucus, along with our Senate counterparts, are going to meet and discuss what we want out of the debt limit,” Mr. Ryan said Dec. 15 on “Fox News Sunday.” “We don’t want nothing out of the debt limit.”

The country is expected to hit the debt ceiling in February and could default if the limit isn’t raised.

Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, said Mr. Ryan’s comments represented a blow to any feel-good, bipartisan feeling created by the budget deal he released Dec. 10 with Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat.

“I believe we very quickly began to move away from ‘Kumbaya’ a couple weeks ago,” Mr. Bernstein said Tuesday on MSNBC.

He was optimistic, however, that congressional lawmakers would work together better and get more accomplished in 2014 than in 2013 — a low bar to clear.

“I’m afraid we’re not going to see a lot [of cooperation], but we’ll see some,” he said.

Some lawmakers aren’t as hopeful that any good will created by the budget deal will carry over to January. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, said the budget deal doesn’t make him optimistic about 2014 because it was so limited and served Republicans’ desire to avoid another damaging shutdown in an election year.

“I am pessimistic,” he said Tuesday on MSNBC. “That was a very minor deal. Republicans had been politically wounded by the shutdown, so they didn’t want to do that again. We got a very minor deal that doesn’t really deal with our budget problems.”

The one place Mr. Nadler sees some hope for cooperation next year is immigration reform in the House. The fact that Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, added immigration policy veteran Rebecca Tallent to his staff is a good sign that he is willing to look at the issue again, he said.

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