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Washington Week: US Lawmakers Preview 2014 Agendas

The U.S. Congress has concluded work for the year. Before leaving Washington, lawmakers drew political battle lines for 2014, an election year in which all House seats and one-third of Senate seats will be contested.

One of Congress’ last acts of 2013 was to pass a two-year bipartisan federal budget. Will Democrats and Republicans continue to work hand-in-hand in the year to come? Not if lawmakers’ parting comments were any indication.

Democrats, said Senator Richard Durbin, want to focus on the widening income gap between America’s rich and working-class citizens.

“When we return next year, we need to make working families our highest priority,” said he.

Fellow Democrat Charles Schumer concurred.

“The tectonic plates of our politics are changing. The decline of middle class incomes and the difficulty for average people getting good paying jobs has overtaken the deficit as the number one problem facing our political economy today,” said Schumer.

Republicans disagree. If Democrats are eager to ride a populist economic message into the 2014 elections, Senator Tom Coburn remains focused on U.S. fiscal woes.

“If you look at $700 billion in deficits and an almost $18 trillion [national] debt, some grown-up in the room has to question whether or not we are spending money wisely and effectively,” said Coburn.

And Republicans will remind voters of the shortcomings of President Barack Obama’s health care law. Senator John Thune spoke of broken promises.

“Democrats and the president made the American people a promise. They said, ‘We will make health care more affordable’. As long as Obamacare is in place, that promise will continue to be broken,” said Thune.

Democrat, like Senator Schumer, are betting the law’s early implementation problems will be solved, allowing Americans to focus on pocketbook issues.

“Issues like job creation, the minimum wage, and unemployment insurance are going to weigh on the minds of voters far more than Obamacare by the time the 2014 elections roll around,” said Schumer.

Whether the U.S. economy continues to improve, and whether the Affordable Care Act’s early problems fade next year, could determine which party’s message resonates better with the American people. In the meantime, bipartisanship, which made a brief appearance in the budget deal, could be a rare commodity in 2014.