Get ready for some quick action from the new Republican-led House of Representatives when Congress convenes Wednesday: It's going to read the entire Constitution aloud, try to repeal the new health care law and cut federal spending dramatically. But despite what's likely to be a January full of big talk, big votes and big ideas, the most important policy decisions are likely only after some titanic power struggles. Here are four key issues to watch.
Health care reform
To tea party activists, the 2010 health care law's mandate that nearly everyone have insurance is a dangerous extension of federal power. The House decided late Monday that it would vote on repeal on Jan. 12. No one expects a repeal to stick, since two-thirds majorities in both chambers would be required to override a veto from President Barack Obama. But the debate and vote could provide important clues about how Republicans would replace the current system.
House Republicans have vowed to cut $100 billion from the budget. They're expected to make recommendations on budget-cutting rules today, and the full House is likely to vote Wednesday. Among the changes: Any new mandatory spending would have to be offset by cuts elsewhere. Specifics from incoming House Speaker John Boehner have been hard to come by. Much government spending has been politically untouchable: About 60 percent goes for entitlement programs, including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
The federal debt, nearly $13.9 trillion, grows by $4 billion a day. Unless the debt ceiling of $14.3 trillion, enacted in February, is raised, Washington will be unable to borrow and thus unable to pay for government services. Tea party conservatives may be hard to persuade to raise the cap.
Rules of debate
Frustrated by Republicans using the filibuster — extended debate — to block or slow legislation from coming to the Senate floor, a band of Senate Democrats plans to propose on Wednesday changing the way the chamber conducts its business. New limits would require senators to be on the floor if they seek to derail legislation. The House will vote Friday on its own rules for debate.
Senators also are seeking an elimination of so-called secret holds, which allow them to anonymously block the consideration of presidents' nominees for Cabinet, judicial, diplomatic and other posts.