With midterm congressional elections less than a year away, partisan bickering on Capitol Hill isn’t likely to end anytime soon. But as he prepares to head back to work after the holiday recess, Senator Patrick Leahy says he’s optimistic Democrats and Republicans will come to terms this year on some key pieces of legislation.
When he flies back to Washington, D.C. Saturday afternoon, Vermont’s senior senator resumes work on a number of longstanding legislative initiatives. And after a 2013 filled with backbiting and gridlock, Leahy says he’s hopeful Congress will finally make headway on some key issues.
“But I think that we have a chance to do better in this coming year,” Leahy said. “In the talks I’ve been having with both the Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate make me think that may be possible.”
Leahy spoke to reporters Friday from inside his fourth floor offices in downtown Burlington. By the end of next week, he said the Senate should have a deal in hand to restore unemployment benefits to the 1.3 million Americans that were cut off when Congress failed to approve an extension before the new year.
Leahy said a compromise is also on the horizon for the Farm Bill.
“I think we are at a point where this weekend we’ll be able to complete the work on the Farm Bill and I will go back to Washington tomorrow afternoon to be part of that,” Leahy said.
Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he’s been working behind the scenes on an immigration bill that, despite being passed twice in the Senate, has stalled in the House. He said that Republican House Speaker John Boehner now appears willing to let a version of the legislation move to the floor.
“Now at first the speaker said that they would not take it up. In the last few days he has been more positive,” Leahy said. “I have been meeting very, very quietly with Republicans and Democrats both in the House and the Senate on it. I am more optimistic today that I was even a week ago.”
Later this month, Leahy will hold a public hearing to grill White House officials about the mass surveillance activities undertaken by the National Security Agency. He said he’ll use the hearing to build steam for legislation that would limit the collection of citizens’ personal data.
Leahy said he doesn’t foresee a major showdown over the looming vote to raise the debt ceiling, and that he’s confident Congress will avoid a replay of the government shutdown of 2013.
Leahy sounded less optimistic about Democrats prospects in the 2014 midterm elections, where he said he has no idea what will happen.
“I’m usually pretty good at picking it. In the last 20 or so elections I’ve called it almost exactly,” Leahy said. “But I’ve had a far better view than I do now. I don’t know the answer. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”