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Underwhelming year

Published December 23. 2013 4:00AM

While the 113th Congress and the first year of President Obama's second term ended with at least one significant achievement - approval by both the House and Senate of a two-year budget - it was a disappointing 2013.

Last January so much seemed possible. Having suffered through a tough 2012 election in which they failed to regain the presidency and lost seats in Congress, Republicans seemed ready to improve their standing with Latino voters by working with Democrats on passage of immigration reform. But the effort stalled in the House, where tea party members were unwilling to embrace a bill with a path to citizenship for residents now in the country illegally, fearful they would be labeled as having allowed amnesty.

Shocked by the mass killing of first graders and their teachers in Newtown a year ago, supporters of gun control pressed to restore and strengthen the federal ban on automatic weapons. However, the National Rifle Association again demonstrated its political muscle and no measure of any substance could get out of the Senate, a few Democrats in strong Second Amendment states joining Republicans in blocking legislation.

Even the scope of the budget deal is underwhelming. After the public reacted negatively to the government shutdown - orchestrated by tea party adherents in the House and Sen. Ted Cruz in the Senate in a doomed attempt to repeal Obamacare - there was at least some small chance of Congress taking a serious attempt at comprehensive tax and entitlement reform to curb deficit spending.

Instead came the modest budget deal, a status quo arrangement with no big cuts, no new taxes and no large new programs, but which will at least provide some stability and end the crisis-to-crisis approach to federal fiscal policy.

The coming year should bring another run at immigration reform. An increase in the federal minimum wage appears achievable. House Speaker John Boehner's criticism of the far-right members of his caucus when they talked of blocking the budget deal suggests he may be in the mood to work around them.

More may get done. It is hard to imagine Congress having fewer accomplishments in the coming year.

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