Five big issues for the new Congress

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., applauds after handing the gavel to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who was re-elected as House Speaker of the 113th Congress, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
AP Photo / Susan Walsh

The 112th Congress was the least productive in 65 years, and it had the poor approval ratings to show for it.

If the new Congress, which was sworn in on Thursday, wants to polish up the legislative branch's reputation, there's plenty of opportunity. The 113th session is primed to make progress -- if it wants to -- on a number of significant issues, such as gun control, immigration, energy and taxes.

After the last Congress capped off its session with the dismally partisan "fiscal cliff" debate, it's unclear how functional Capitol Hill lawmakers will be this year, but here's a look at the issues they could tackle:

1. Fiscal issues

First and foremost, the new Congress will have to address the fiscal issues left on the table after the "fiscal cliff" deal was passed in the final hours of the 112th Congress.

Around mid-February, the Treasury Department is expected to exhaust its borrowing authority. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner announced in late December that Treasury was already resorting to accounting tricks to skirt the $16.4 trillion limit. If Congress doesn't raise the limit, the federal government risks defaulting on its loans.

Additionally, Congress in February will have to address the "sequester" -- cuts amounting to $1.2 trillion over 10 years, hitting both the Pentagon and domestic programs. Both Democrats and Republicans think the across-the-board cuts should be scrapped or at least replaced with more strategic cuts. The "sequester" cuts were supposed to start this month, but the "fiscal cliff" deal passed on Jan. 1 deferred them for two months.

Meanwhile, on March 27, the last "continuing resolution" is set to expire. The "continuing resolution" is the bill Congress passed after it failed to pass a real federal budget. If it fails to pass another "continuing resolution" before the current one expires, some federal operations could shut down temporarily.

2. Immigration

The president has made clear that immigration reform is his top priority in his second term.

"I will introduce legislation in the first year to get that done," Mr. Obama said Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press." "I think we have talked about it long enough. We know how we can fix it. We can do it in a comprehensive way that the American people support."

Mr. Obama's immigration reform package will reportedly include a path to citizenship for the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants, strengthened border security, an easier means of bringing in foreign workers under special visas, and stricter penalties for employers who hire undocumented workers. The White House is also reportedly planning a "social media blitz" to sell the package.

Republicans have plenty of motivation to work with the president and Democrats on this issue after Latino voters roundly rejected the GOP's presidential candidate, siding with Mr. Obama over Mitt Romney, 71 percent to 27 percent.

The GOP already demonstrated its renewed interest in this issue late last year, by pursuing legislation to welcome high-skilled immigrants, as well as their own version of the DREAM Act -- called the ACHIEVE Act -- that would give permanent residency to certain undocumented youths. Additionally, a group of bipartisan senators has already reportedly started meeting behind closed doors to discuss immigration legislation.