US Congress

There are five issues facing the United States Congress in 2012 that are looming so large on the horizon that they are sure to dominate the political discussions in the nation and in Congress itself. The federal budget deficit will be at the top of the agenda as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction has announced its failure to arrive at a bipartisan deal. Economic stimulus is again becoming a hot topic as over half of the $787 billion has already been spent with over $496 billion dedicated to bailing out State budgets.

Drilling for energy in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is threatening to become a hot topic again as environmental groups find themselves pitted against the need for jobs and national security interests. Health care again will dominate discussions as Congressional committees continue to struggle to make changes to the Affordable Health Care for America Act also known as Obamacare to make it more palatable before the 2012 elections. Last but not least, the Pentagon is warning Congress that the defense department budget cuts passed in the August deficit reduction bill constitutes a threat to National Security.

Federal Budget Deficit

On November 21, 2011 both of the co-chairs of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) issued a statement announcing that the committee had failed to reach a bipartisan agreement on deficit reduction. Their statement made it clear that the entire committee felt that “the nation’s fiscal crisis must be addressed and that we cannot leave it to the next generation to solve.” Other than that, their statement thanked their staffers for all their help.

Over the next ten years Congress will spend at least $44 trillion, yet the committee could not find $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over those same ten years. According to a statement by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) the republicans insisted on “extending the Bush tax cuts for people making more than a million dollars a year and repealing the Medicare guarantee”.

According to a Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) the Democrats “could not see their way to addressing these much needed reforms without at least $1 trillion in job-killing tax increases on families and employers.” Essentially the decision on addressing the federal budget deficit has been kicked back to the entire Congress, just as the U.S. approaches the 2012 election season.

Economic Stimulus

The site Recovery.gov reports that the original $787 billion expenditures of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has been increased to $840 billion. This includes payouts for taxes, entitlements, contracts, grants and loans. The majority of expenditures amounting to $300.1 billion went to tax benefits, while $215.3 billion went to contracts, grants and loans, and $213.5 billion went to entitlements. All of this money created 400,803 recovery-funded jobs reported by recipients between July 1 and September 30 of 2011 according to the site.

Looking deeper, you will find that $86.0 billion went to Medicaid and Medicare, $60.9 went to Unemployment Insurance programs and $35.9 billion went to Family Services such as Foster Care, Adoption Assistance, Child Support, Food Stamps, and Assistance for Needy Families. However, with deficit reduction taking center stage and almost all of the funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 having been paid out, calls for a new economic stimulus program are almost certain to resurface.

Energy

The House Natural Resources Committee held hearings on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and how it might affect job creation in September 2011. Democrats on the committee called for more hearings to allow people that oppose development to be able to testify. Despite this, the committee chairman Doc Hastings along with Alaska Rep.

Don Young announced their plans to submit a bill allowing gas and oil development on the 1.5 million acre coastal plain on the northern edge of the AWNR Under other circumstances this might not be such a big issue, but with the potential oil revenue to the Federal Government at stake and the call for laws that create more jobs this this could be one of the hot button issues of during the 2012 presidential and congressional elections.

Health Care

The Affordable Health Care for America Act has already become a presidential election theme. Many of the Republican candidates are already promising to repeal it if they get elected. Even the Supreme Court will be in the news as it issues its ruling on what parts, if any, of the new law are unconstitutional. The law does not fully take effect until 2014, including the so-called Individual Mandate part of the law that will force American citizens to pay for private insurance or pay a tax penalty.

Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated that the legislation will reduce the number of unemployed people in the U.S. by 32 million by 2019, at a net cost of $938 billion over ten years. The total savings to the federal government will be $124 billion over the same ten years. This law is already a top 2012 presidential election issue, but it with all the proposed changes to it being submitted in Congress already, it will be a top issue for Congress in 2012 and probably for years beyond that.


National Security

The Secretary of Defense (Leon Panetta) and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey testified on November 15 2011 that defense cuts and the political gridlock in Congress constituted a national security threat. The Defense Secretary also pointed out that the proposed spending cuts, especially the across the board cuts caused by the failure of the Select Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, would devastate the military.

This was the first time either the Defense Secretary or the Joint Chiefs Chairman had testified before the Senate Armed Services committee in their current jobs. With the U.S. in several wars around the world, this is a very sensitive topic, especially to those whose livelihoods depend upon their relationship to the military. Now with the war in Afghanistan not going well, this issue will probably become even more heated during the election season of 2012.