Today Congress returns for a 10-week long session that may determine whether President Obama has a positive legacy for his two terms in office.
Congress is likely to focus on gun control and immigration reform – the two most-visible issues to voters.
New gun law is currently focused on the criminal background check system. Democrats are pushing for universal background checks that would force any gun transfer, even those between family members, to require a federal form and a phone call to the FBI performed by a licensed gun dealer. Republicans are stressing that the system needs better information not background checks on intra-family transfers.
Immigration reform has been a thrust by Democrats since 2007 and has included proposals for differing versions of amnesty for illegal immigrants. Republicans have been softening their stance on reform and many are entertaining a path-to-citizenship for those that have already been in the country for several years.
Differences on immigration between the sides centers on border security. While Republicans want demonstrated proof of a secure border before a path-to-citizenship is entertained, Democrats would prefer that illegal immigrants are offered a way to become citizens and only then focus on securing the border.
The Obama administration has made immigration reform one of its top agenda items for the President’s second term. Considering the chaos, increasing complexity and rapidly rising costs of Obamacare, immigration may be his last hop for a positive legacy.
Many Democrats are fearful that growing public resentment of the failing healthcare law could leave them open to Republican challenges in the 2014 election. Immigration reform could give them something positive to point to as they campaign at home.
The President has also been canvassing the nation to garner support for universal background checks. Realizing that semi-automatic gun bans and magazine restrictions are unpopular, Obama is hoping to claim a gun control win by using public pressure to get background checks to apply to all gun transfers.
Any gun control legislation is likely to be debated for some time to come. As most polls show a lack of public support for any new gun laws, lawmakers will surely debate and negotiate heavily before anything escapes the Senate. The House is likely to shoot down any heavy-handed attempt to restrict the second amendment.
With gun control support lagging and healthcare reform on the edge of failure, Obama’s second term will almost certainly be defined by changes in immigration law.