New Year, New GOP-Controlled Congress: Here Are the Issues You Should Keep Your Eye On

Battles over health care, job creation and education—and bipartisanship on cybersecurity—are likely to occupy the new 114th Congress.

Speaker of the House John Boehner and President Barack Obama
Speaker of the House John Boehner and President Barack Obama Mark Wilson/Getty Images

It’s not only a brand-new year; it’s also a brand-spanking-new 114th Congress: Fasten your seat belts, fam, because the legislative ride could get very rough.

Republicans not only grew their majority in the House of Representatives—perhaps solidifying it for another decade or more—but also managed to grab back control of the Senate with a comfortable margin. Added to that is a situation in which both the Democratic and Republican parties wrestle for political dominance on the cusp of the next big election cycle. Folks will be closely watching the fireworks as a resurgent President Barack Obama flexes muscle against belligerent congressional Republicans placating their restless red base. Obama’s veto threat on the Keystone XL pipeline and the GOP’s efforts at changing the 30-hour-workweek provision in the Affordable Care Act have already set the tone as Congress gets rocked.  

There are lots of questions—“What next?” being the most obvious—but Congress is a tough nut to crack on any given day. The average voter has enough on his or her plate trying to keep track of it all, so The Take is turning to some of the best in the business: lobbyists, former top congressional staffers, policy researchers, legal minds and educators. If you want an initial top-of-the-year primer on what’s popping in Congress, all you have to do is read more.

Jarvis Stewart, IR+Media: There is a large section of the black community supporting the need for criminal-justice reform, for example, but they are looking for a far more mainstream legislative agenda. Issues that address the crumbling economic foundation and infrastructure of urban centers would be a great start.

One critical piece of legislation: addressing the student-loan issue that has delivered a crushing blow to parents and students across the country, especially those in the black community. 

Congressional Black Caucus members should work more closely with the expanded Republican majority to create new markets and lower hurdles for minority small businesses. The fact is this: The decline of unemployment in black and urban communities is directly related to the increase and growth of black businesses. Black business owners—like their white, Asian and Latino counterparts—are far more likely to hire workers in communities where they’re located or where they’re from. For example, I suspect an opportunity for CBC members to join forces to amend Dodd-Frank [the Wall Street reform law]. Parts of that have had a negative impact on black-owned community banks, thus choking their ability to lend.

Margery Austin Turner, the Urban Institute: Our work as researchers and policymakers is stymied when we can’t gain access to essential data—much of which is collected and controlled by the federal government. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) introduced sensible, bipartisan legislation last month that focuses on the most basic prerequisite for evidence-based policy: good data that are current, representative and reliable. With the Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act of 2014, their charge to design a clearinghouse of federal data to support policy research would let researchers deploy federal data resources to help programs make better use of scarce public dollars.

Jeneba Ghatt, Ghatt Law Group: Did you know the Internet is not regulated by the government? That’s why it’s been such a great medium for ideas and dialogue. It partly explains the success of many Web-based businesses, including content providers like popular black blogs. However, the current fight over whether or not to regulate it [frequently referred to as the Net neutrality debate] is over the pipes and technology making it all work. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) was known as a bulldog when he headed the House Oversight and Government Committee. Just wait till he chairs the House Internet, Courts and Intellectual Property Subcommittee. He wants to stop the FCC from pushing Net neutrality. Meanwhile, as the new majority-controlled Republican Congress launches its first session, ranking members on the Senate Commerce Committee also have their sights set on Net neutrality.

It will also be interesting to see cybersecurity take priority.

With the recent hacking of Sony, allegedly by North Korea, we see renewed focus on cybersecurity and privacy. Here is where you will see some consensus and cooperation from the White House and Congress, as there is much division on the importance of privacy and Americans’ ability to be free from digital threats.