Does the arrival of spring, heralded by the annual blossoming of the cherry trees in Washington, also signal a thaw in political deep freeze that has descended on our nation's capital?  

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Cherry Blossoms Bloom: Congress Still Frozen

Tue Apr 15, 2014

Much anticipated as a harbinger of spring, Washington DC’s historic cherry blossoms reached peak bloom last week. After a long, cold winter, spring has arrived!

The big question is whether the beautiful blossoms can thaw the political deep freeze that has descended on the nation’s capital.

Aside from an agreement earlier this year on the federal budget and the debt ceiling, Democrats and Republicans disagree on almost everything—an extension of unemployment insurance; a hike in the federal minimum wage; the causes of income inequality;  the pay gap between men and women; and, of course, the Affordable Care Act.

Blame politics for the icicles that dangle from these issues. A number of Senate Democrats up for re-election this fall hail from states Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney carried in 2012, making them vulnerable this year. Party control of the Senate and with it President Obama’s agenda and legacy hang in the balance. With a net gain of just six Senate seats in November Republicans could wrest control from Democrats, putting the GOP in the Capitol Hill driver’s seat.

Politics partly explains each party’s policy agenda for this year. Republicans hammer away at “ObamaCare,” promising to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and allow Americans to keep their health plans and doctors.

Democrats focus on growing U.S. income inequality, the “defining issue of our time,” says President Obama, calling for a higher minimum wage, more weeks of emergency unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed and “paycheck fairness” to address the disparity in earnings between men and women.

With Democrats in control of the Senate and Republicans in control of the House of Representatives few expect compromises on these issues, though a temporary U.I. extension remains possible.

A case in point is the Affordable Care Act, where a few common sense fixes seem obvious. Republicans and Democrats should be able to agree to change the definition of full-time employee from 30 hours per week to 40; to raise the threshold for a “large group employer” from 50 full-time employees to 200 full-timers or even more; to suspend the individual mandate for 2014; and create a lower-cost “copper” plan option in the insurance exchanges.

Election year politics, however, make ACA compromises unlikely. Republicans don’t want to be seen as “improving ObamaCare,” thereby giving up their campaign theme, and Democrats fear conceding the ACA is flawed. So the cherry blossoms will come and go without defrosting the Capitol Hill stalemate.

We’re reminded, however, that the original Tidal Basin cherry trees were a gift to Washington DC from the mayor of Tokyo in 1912—intended to honor the friendship between the U.S. and Japan.

We can only hope that the spirit of friendship will soon return to Capitol Hill; that Republicans and Democrats will put public interest ahead of partisan politics and work together, not only on the Affordable Care Act but on all the big issues affecting our country.