Amidst the eleventh-hour drama surrounding the fiscal cliff, every other issue facing the country was shunted to the side. The deal to allow tax rates to rise on the wealthiest Americans was so bruising that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) tabled a bill that would have asked the House GOP to sign off on $60 billion in federal aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy, earning Boehner a humiliating dressing-down from his fellow Republicans in New Jersey and New York. And Sandy wasn't the only issue to get lost in the mix. As Slate's Dave Weigel put it:
Hey, remember when we were talking about new gun control legislation? That was a wild six minutes.
— daveweigel (@daveweigel) January 2, 2013
Congress' budget battles are only expected to get gorier over the next couple of months, as Republicans and Democrats try to reach a deal that would prevent $1.2 trillion in crippling spending cuts, a U.S. debt default, and a government shutdown. However, the White House insists that President Obama "is planning to move full steam ahead with the rest of his domestic policy agenda," say Elise Foley and Sam Stein at The Huffington Post. Immigration reform and gun control are at the top of the list, but the chances of their quick passage seem slim given the heated atmosphere in Congress. "The negative effect of this fiscal cliff fiasco is that every time we become engaged in one of these fights, there's no oxygen for anything else," an unidentified Senate Democratic aide told HuffPo. "It's not like you can be multi-tasking — with something like this, Congress just comes to a complete standstill."
The key to congressional action is to strike when the iron is hot. In the case of immigration reform, the GOP has to feel the sting of Mitt Romney's defeat as if it were yesterday. Supporters of gun control, an issue that had been all but abandoned before the school shooting in Connecticut, say Obama must act while public opinion is on their side. As time passes, it's only logical to assume that a sense of urgency will give way to the gravitational pull of preserving the status quo.
And, of course, there is the boulder-sized obstacle known as the GOP-controlled House, which has proven time and again that it has no interest in compromising with Democrats on pretty much anything. In addition to keeping immigration and gun control in the spotlight, the Obama administration may have to adopt the same strategy it used (or stumbled upon) in the deal to extend the Bush tax cuts for all but the wealthiest Americans, which involved securing strong Republican support in the Senate. On immigration, at least, GOP party leaders are reportedly eager to reach a deal in order to give Republicans a better shot at wooing Latino voters. As Karen Tumulty and Peter Wallsten write at The Washington Post:
White House aides are debating whether they should take the unusual step of drafting an immigration bill or instead lay out principles that could serve as a rallying point. Pro-immigration Republicans will be recruited to help, among them evangelical pastors and small-business owners.
Said one outside strategist who is familiar with White House thinking but who discussed the strategy on the condition of anonymity: "The second term rests on the hypothesis that the House Republicans can be broken."