- The Washington Times - Monday, January 7, 2013

A new term for President Obama. A new Congress. And a host of new and returning problems and conflicts for the two sides to hash out. Washington Times chief political correspondent Ralph Z. Hallow looks at 10 political issues and trends to watch in 2013.

1) Tea partyers wise up: Look for tea party strategists and conservative activists, on both the economic and Christian right, to use their heads as much as their hearts in picking their future House and Senate candidates. Many on the right think they lost winnable races — notably, W. Todd Akin in Missouri — in 2012 by failing to pick social-conservative candidates who knew how to talk to a general-election audience. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a staunch social conservative, never made the politically fatal verbal missteps on issues such as abortion that doomed Mr. Akin’s Senate race.

2) A new generation of Republican leadership (slowly) emerges: Don’t look for major GOP leadership change until mid-2016. By then, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky may emerge as prime contenders for the presidential nomination. But until someone actually gets that distinction, House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, despite some recent hits to his authority, will remain the party’s most visible and powerful figure in Washington. But Mr. Boehner will have to keep an eye on his own restive caucus, and on his more conservative lieutenants, such as Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and Rep. Tom Price of Georgia.

3) Gunbattles: The Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in December in Newtown, Conn., made inevitable an early policy battle over gun rights. Post-Sandy Hook, congressional Democrats are talking about reinstituting the expired assault-weapons ban passed under President Clinton, which expired in 2004. Members of both parties elected from urban districts or liberal states will feel emboldened to push for more limits on gun use and availability. The fight will likely produce more collateral damage within GOP ranks than among Democrats.

4) Benghazi and the world: Despite the administration’s best efforts, the problems in security and foreign policy exposed by the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, will get a fresh airing in the new Congress. Other overseas events likely to be felt strongly at home include the potential shifts in Latin America with the passing from the scene of Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, who is battling cancer, and the European Union’s never-ending efforts to get its arms around the euro crisis. “The ability of Europe’s elite to find political Band-Aids to cover over ever-expanding economic wounds is truly impressive, but not without bounds,” said Heritage Foundation fellow J.D. Foster.

5) Alien nation: Watch for Republicans, stung by huge losses among Hispanic voters Nov. 6, to tear themselves apart in a struggle to reach a bipartisan immigration deal. Mr. Obama has vowed to get more involved in drafting legislation to overhaul the nation’s immigration policies, but any final compromise could wind up alienating the ideological wings of both parties. One element both sides likely will agree on is a move to reverse the “brain drain” of talented immigrants, said Brookings Institution’s Governance Studies Fellow John Hudak, easing rules for visa-bearing foreign graduates of U.S. universities who have high-tech savvy to stay and work in the country. Many GOP leaders say they recognize the need to refine the party’s message on immigration, but Sen. Marco Rubio’s efforts to draft a Republican version of the Dream Act could prove problematic with the party base if the freshman Floridian makes a 2016 presidential run.

6) Economic blame game: As in Mr. Obama’s first term, a potential economic slowdown this year would leave the two parties fighting over who bears the blame for the failure of the economy to recover fully. Mr. Obama was able to blame predecessor George W. Bush for much of his first term’s woes, but that argument is unlikely to fly in the next four years.

7) Waging war on wages: Whatever the pace of economic growth in the next four years, an equally important political debate is shaping up over pocketbooks and paychecks. After years of unimpressive wage growth, labor unions will pressure Mr. Obama to do something to boost paychecks, extending the fight already begun over higher taxes for the rich passed in the “fiscal cliff” compromise. In his first term, Mr. Obama condemned wage stagnation but offered no concrete solutions. If he does so in 2013, Republicans face a question of how to position their opposition.

8) Governors on the ballot: Two very different Republicans will be carrying the banner in the only two states holding gubernatorial contests this year. In Virginia, state Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, a favorite of movement conservatives, will test his appeal as the GOP nominee in an increasingly purple state that voted once again for Mr. Obama in November. In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie seeks a second term while facing anger from some on the right over his performance in the Superstorm Sandy aftermath and seeking to enhance his national profile ahead of a possible 2016 presidential bid.

9) Congressional bypass operation: With divided government and partisan gridlock returning to Capitol Hill in 2013, conservatives will be on the watch for efforts by the administration to bypass Congress to implement Mr. Obama’s liberal agenda. The expectation on both sides is for agency action and executive orders that bypass Congress, moves that can’t be blocked legislatively but pile more regulations on the private sector.

10) Obamacare survives: The Supreme Court decision in June and Mitt Romney’s loss in November have Republicans wincing at their repeated promises to repeal the president’s signature health care law as a top priority of 2013. But there remain major policy fights looming over implementation and funding for the law, and tea party activists and conservative groups are likely to seek primary opponents for GOP lawmakers who go soft in the fight, according to Heritage Foundation Vice President Becky Norton Dunlop.

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