Election-year politics shape US Congress’ agenda

By Donna Cassata, AP

WASHINGTON–Congress returns to work Monday with election-year politics certain to shape an already limited agenda.

Republicans intend to focus on every facet of U.S. President Barack Obama’s health care law. They see a political boost in its problem-plagued rollout as Republicans look to maintain their House majority and seize control of the Democratic-led Senate.

First up in the House of Representatives, according to Majority Leader Eric Cantor, is legislation addressing the security of personal data of those using federal and state websites to sign up for health care insurance, part of his party’s effort “to protect the American people from the harmful effects of Obamacare.”

Republicans also promise closer scrutiny of the administration’s tally of enrollment numbers in the program.

Democrats will press to raise the federal minimum wage from US$7.25 an hour and extend unemployment benefits, trying to cast their party as more concerned with the less fortunate and intent on dealing with income inequality. The issues resonate with liberals, the core Democratic voters crucial in low-turnout midterm elections.

Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, said an extension of federal benefits for an estimated 1.3 million long-term unemployed Americans who saw their payments stopped on Dec. 28 is more than an economic issue.

“It’s about real people, people with families struggling to put food on the table, to make ends meet, including … 200,000 military veterans who are among these folks who are losing their benefits,” he told reporters Friday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has scheduled a vote Monday night on legislation by Democratic Sen. Jack Reed and Republican Sen. Dean Heller to extend long-term unemployment benefits for three months.

However, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer said he is unsure Democrats can cobble together the 60 votes needed to overcome a procedural hurdle to bring the measure to a final vote.

“If we don’t get the 60, we will come back at this issue,” he promised.