In the final days of the 113th Congress, lawmakers are squarely focused on a massive spending bill necessary to keep the government running. Congress managed to cram quite a few issues into the spending bill, including some controversial items like changes to campaign finance rules.
Even so, the 113th Congress is likely to adjourn for the year with several significant issues left on the table.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, have promised that next year's Congress will be more productive, since Republicans will control both chambers. Some issues like tax reform may indeed fare better in the GOP-led Congress, but others like immigration reform may simply be left on the backburner.
Here's a look at some of the major business Congress failed to complete this year:
Vote on the war against ISIS
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday voted to authorize the use of military force against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Thursday's development marked the first time any members of Congress have had a chance to vote on the war, even though the Obama administration has been fighting it for months. ISIS emerged as a threat nearly half a year ago, and the United States assembled a large international coalition against the group three months ago. Some members of Congress, like Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, are skeptical President Obama has the authority to be waging war without a new vote of approval from Congress.
- Senate Committee votes to approve war against ISIS
- Can Congress keep putting off a vote on the war on ISIS?
After the Foreign Relations Committee passed the measure by a partisan vote of 10 to eight, Chairman Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, said he would try to get the bill up for a vote before the full Senate. But with just days left in session, that's unlikely to happen. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, the top Republican on the committee, acknowledged as much and promised to keep the issue alive in the next Congress.
"I think we ought to go ahead and vote, and move on, and know that this is something that will continue," Corker said.
Even if the Senate were to keep working on the matter, it's going nowhere in the House. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, who authored a House version of the war authorization, urged the House Foreign Affairs Committee to take up the issue without delay.
"To adjourn for the year, as appears imminent, without addressing one of the most fundamental issues of the day, is a terrible abdication of Congress's power to declare war," he said in a statement Thursday.
In 2013, the Senate actually managed to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill with bipartisan support. The House, however, simply sat on the bill and failed in 2014 to pass any immigration reform measures.
After the midterm elections, President Obama finally followed through on his promise (or threat, as conservatives perceived it) to act unilaterally. "To those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed," Mr. Obama said, "I have one answer: Pass a bill."
Congress has yet to pass a bill, and the president has acknowledged he doesn't expect it to happen any time soon.
"On immigration, I think that's something that probably comes last," Mr. Obama told the Business Roundtable last week when asked about his legislative priorities for the next year. "I suspect that temperatures need to cool a little bit in the wake of my executive action... My suspicion is they'll take a couple of stabs at rolling back what I've done, and then perhaps folks will step back and say, well, rather than just do something partial that we may not be completely satisfied with, let's engage with the president to see if we can do something more comprehensive."
"I could regale you with all of my challenges of trying to get members on both sides of the aisle to go along with this," the speaker said last month, referring to the Senate-passed bill. However, he added, "Hope springs eternal."
Early in 2014, Mr. Obama put out a plan that combined infrastructure investments with tax reforms. That same day, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee -- the committee in charge of taxes -- put forward his own ambitious plan that overlapped with the president's in significant ways.
In spite of that promising start, Republican leaders quickly threw cold water on the prospects for tax reform.
"I think we will not be able to finish the job, regretfully, in 2014," McConnell said at the time. "Now, if we had a new Republican Senate next year, coupled with a Republican House, I think we could have at least a congressional agreement that this is about getting rates down, and making America more competitive."
Norm Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute, told CBS News that there's some chance corporate tax reform will get done next year. However, he said, "The difficulty there-- and it is a difficulty -- is the idea that most Republicans have of tax reform is you cut the rates, and then you use 'dynamic scoring' so magically you'll get more revenues."
Instead of using "dynamic scoring," the outgoing Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Michigan, put forward a plan that actually eliminated and reduced some popular tax breaks to keep the plan revenue-neutral. It was widely praised but effectively a political non-starter. Should Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, succeed Camp as Ways and Means Chairman, he'll more likely scrap Camp's approach to keep business interests happy.
"You have the business community saying over and over again, these high corporate tax rates are killing us -- but don't you dare touch the preferences we already have" in the tax code, Ornstein explained.
Mr. Obama told the Business Roundtable last week that tax reform may be the first issue he tries to tackle with the new Republican-led Congress but perhaps not the first thing they accomplish together.
"My instinct," he said, "is to get a process started on tax reform early, because you need a pretty long runway for that. It takes some time. As I said, we've already got some overlap in the frameworks, which will help, but that's probably a full six to nine months before we could really solidify something."
Police gear reforms
The death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was shot by a police officer, was controversial enough to spur large protests in Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere over the summer. Once those protesters were confronted by police decked out in military gear, members of Congress took notice as well. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle started talking about reforming law enforcement programs and protocol.
Members of Congress produced legislation that would put some constraints on the federal programs that allow the Pentagon to give police forces equipment for free, and congressional committees held hearings on the matter. Liberals like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, and conservatives like Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, have expressed concern about the issue, but the legislation has yet to advance. Congress is also sitting on a bill that would require police forces to use body cameras in order to get Justice Department funding.
With no immediate congressional action in sight, Mr. Obama recently issued a modest executive order to standardize the way federal agencies transfer military gear to police forces. The administration is also proposing a $75 million investment to purchase 50,000 body cameras for police officers. That would be part of a three-year, $263 million package to expand training for law enforcement agencies, add more resources to reform police departments, and increase the number of cities where the Justice Department (DOJ) works to improve relations between the community and law enforcement agencies.
Congress this week did manage to pass one piece of legislation to reform police practices -- the Death in Custody Reporting Act will require states to report how many people are killed during an arrest or while in police custody.