1 of 3 | Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to reporters on the extension of unemployment insurance on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., January 7, 2014. McConnell was joined by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) (L) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO). UPI/Kevin Dietsch | License Photo
U.S. President Barack Obama may have declared 2014 a year of action in his State of the Union address but lawmakers last week moved quickly after returning from their recess to knock down expectations.
Even Obama seems to be rethinking his ambitions, deciding this will not be the year Social Security increases are scaled back by linking them to the chained-CPI, a form of the Consumer Price Index that considers substitutions for products that get too pricey instead of just cheaper versions of the same product -- think oranges instead of apples (chained-CPI) rather than Gala apples instead of Honeycrisps (regular CPI).
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, met with Obama at the White House and afterward presidential spokesman Jay Carney described the session as "constructive," with the two discussing "a wide range" of issues. A Boehner aide pronounced the meeting productive.
Almost immediately, Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., began scaling back expectations.
"I don't see how we can," McConnell said during a media availability, citing Majority Leader Harry Reid's plan for what McConnell said was $1 trillion in new revenue as a condition for achieving comprehensive tax reform, invoking the ghosts of Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill who worked out the last great tax overhaul.
McConnell is holding out for a Republican takeover of the Senate come November before getting anything substantive done.
"Now, if we had a new Republican Senate next year, coupled with a Republican House, I think we could have at least a congressional agreement that this is about getting rates down, and making America more competitive. You know, not about giving the government even more revenue. So I -- I have no hope for that happening this year," he said.
To be fair, Rep. David Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, released a tax reform measure that lowers tax rates and simplifies the tax code.
Boehner, however, said the measure was just "the beginning of a conversation," not a bill that could be enacted. Boehner told a subsequent news conference Republicans plan to lead, offering alternative visions for the country but shied away from predicting votes on any major issues.
"The last thing we need to be doing right now in our country, is passing legislation that destroys even more jobs," McConnell said in reference to Obama's proposal to boost the minimum wage to $10.10. "This is a tepid recovery at best, the worst recovery after a deep recession since World War II. Goodness gracious, we ought to be trying to create jobs by doing things like approving the Keystone Pipeline, for example, rather than passing legislation that destroys jobs."
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., possible 2016 presidential hopeful, said in a CNN interview comprehensive immigration reform is unlikely.
"Here is the predicament that we're in. [Immigration reform] requires the government to enforce the law so that we don't have this problem again," Rubio said.
"And because this president has unilaterally decided which parts of the law he is going to enforce and which parts he will waive or ignore, he has made it difficult -- not just on immigration but on anything that requires trust that the federal government will enforce the law.
"So, the single biggest impediment to immigration reform today is not Republicans. It's Barack Obama."
Renewing extended unemployment benefits for the 2 million long-term unemployed who have lost that lifeline since Dec. 28? Barely a blip.
"Unemployment insurance we're still now at -- we have ... people who have fallen through the cracks, and without any response, and that's unfortunate for them, and for the country," House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said during a briefing session with reporters.
"And it's costing us growth in the economy, it's costing us jobs, and it's costing a lot of pain and suffering to a lot of our families in the country. We ought to be acting on that, as historically we've done in every instance where we were at a similar place."
Reid put the kibosh on that weeks ago.
"Everyone would be well-advised to not push this right now," Reid said. He said everyone knows how he feels on the issue.
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, in Washington for the National Governors Association meeting, said on CBS' "Face the Nation" there's a "disconnect" between "the ideologues that have taken over the once-proud party of Abraham Lincoln and made it impossible for our Congress to do things that the vast majority of us, Democrats and Republicans throughout the country, agree make sense, like pay the country's bills, pass comprehensive immigration reform, do the common sense things.
"I mean, shutting our country down does not help job growth. Selling America short does not help us build a better future for our kids. And these are the things that the Tea Party Republicans have brought to our Congress and made it very difficult for Mr. Boehner and other Republicans even to enact the sort of reasonable compromise that all of us took for granted in years past."
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said, however, the gridlock in Washington actually is the fault of Obama and Reid, D-Nev.
"Senator Reid is unwilling for his majority members to be in a position to take tough votes," Corker told a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. "This president is afraid to stretch his base. That's why we haven't had the ability to solve the major problems of the day."