Here is your Morning Brief for December 15, 2014.

Congress Meets As Government Shutdown Looms
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No Government Shutdown

Late Saturday the U.S. Senate passed the $1.1 trillion dollar spending bill which means that there won't be a shutdown. The bill didn't pass without controversy or without Republicans criticizing Senator Ted Cruz as FOX News points out.

The Senate voted 56-40 for the long-term funding bill, the main item left on Congress' year-end agenda. The measure provides money for nearly the entire government through the end of the current budget year Sept. 30. The sole exception is the Department of Homeland Security, which is funded only until Feb. 27.

Hours earlier, the Senate had approved a short-term bill funding the federal government through Wednesday night, easing concerns of a potential partial government shutdown. The stopgap bill, which passed by a voice vote, bought lawmakers more time to comb through the separate $1.1 trillion long-term funding bill.

The votes capped a day of intrigue in the upper chamber of Congress that included a failed, largely symbolic Republican challenge to the Obama administration's new immigration policy, while Democrats launched a drive to confirm two dozen of Obama's stalled nominees to the federal bench and administration posts before their majority expires at year's end.

Several Republicans blamed tea party-backed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for giving the outgoing majority party an opportunity to seek approval for presidential appointees, including some that are long-stalled.

"I've seen this movie before, and I wouldn't pay money to see it again," said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., recalling Cruz' leading role a year ago in events precipitating a 16-day partial government shutdown that briefly sent GOP poll ratings plummeting.

Asked if Cruz had created an opening for the Democrats, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah said, "I wish you hadn't pointed that out," adding "You should have an end goal in sight if you're going to do these types of things and I don't see an end goal other than irritating a lot of people."

It was Cruz who pushed the Senate to cast its first vote on the administration's policy of suspending the threat of deportation for an estimated four million immigrants living in the country illegally. He lost his attempt Saturday night, 74-22, with 23 of the 45 GOP senators voting down the Texan's point of order.

"If you believe President Obama's amnesty is unconstitutional, vote yes. If you believe President Obama's amnesty is consistent with the Constitution, vote no," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid rebutted instantly, saying Cruz was "wrong, wrong, wrong on several counts," and even Republicans who oppose Obama's policy abandoned the Texan.

The spending bill, which cleared the House on Thursday, was the main item left on Congress' year-end agenda, and exposed fissures within both political parties in both houses. The controversial package was opposed by conservative Republicans such as Cruz for not challenging Obama's immigration measures, as well as by leading liberals such as House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. who have criticized the bill for repealing banking regulation.

Despite the opposition from liberals, the package won a personal endorsement from Obama and was brought before the Senate. The legislation locks in spending levels negotiated in recent years between Republicans and Democrats, and includes a number of provisions that reflect the priorities of one party or the other, from the environment to abortion to the legalization of marijuana in the District of Columbia.

Despite protests from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, more than 70 House Democrats supported the measure, and Obama made clear that he didn't view the provision as a deal-killer.  Obama acknowledged that the measure has "a bunch of provisions in this bill that I really do not like," and said the bill flows from "the divided government that the American people voted for."

Obama has sided with old-school pragmatists in his party like Reid, but split from liberals such as Pelosi and Warren. Warren blasted the measure in a Senate speech for the third straight day, saying it was a payoff to Citigroup, whose lobbyists helped write a provision that significantly weakens new regulations on derivatives trading by Wall Street banks.

"Enough is enough. Washington already works really well for the billionaires and the big corporations and the lawyers and the lobbyists," Warren said. "But what about the families who lost their homes or their jobs or their retirement savings the last time Citi bet big on derivatives and lost?"

Now we get to hear a lot of talk from Republicans about how they will stand up to Democrats and President Obama in 2015. Does anyone really believe they will?

2016 and Social Issues

Michael Barone expanded on what he thinks the culture war will look like in the 2016 Presidential race.

In an earlier column, I looked at the role the abortion issue would play in the 2016 election — not very much, I concluded — and promised another column on other cultural issues. Here goes.

On anyone’s list of cultural issues that have been debated over the last decade, same-sex marriage ranks just behind abortion. And unlike abortion, opinion on same-sex marriage has changed dramatically in recent years.

Not long ago it wasn’t a political issue at all. The gifted writers Andrew Sullivan and Jonathan Rauch were making an intellectually serious, and interestingly conservative, case for same-sex marriage. But the large majority of Americans weren’t buying it — yet.

Now polls show majorities favoring same-sex marriage. Even if these results are exaggerated, as some charge, there is no question that millions of Americans who never contemplated such a thing two decades ago now favor it.

Still, I don’t think you’ll hear much about it in the 2016 campaign. The reason is that opinion on it cuts across party lines. More than any other issue I can remember, it splits Americans along lines of age. Elderly voters tend to oppose it, though by significantly smaller margins than in the past. Young voters tend to favor it by increasingly large majorities.

Most Democratic politicians favor same-sex marriage. But they don’t want to risk losing the support of elderly and many churchgoing black voters who oppose it but would otherwise support them. Most Republican politicians oppose it. But they want the votes of many Millennial generation voters who consider it a no-brainer. These splits affect primary as well as general election electorates.

So both parties are in the position of the legendary old-time politician who said, “Some of my friends are for the bill and some of my friend are against the bill, and I’m always with my friends.”

In the meantime, legislatures have voted on same-sex marriage in several states and courts are installing it in many others. Congress isn’t going to vote on it, and neither are most other state legislatures. Proponents can savor success. Opponents argue it will weaken marriage, but voters haven’t seen evidence of that yet. Fervor is subsiding. It's a different kind of issue. Abortion inevitably means extinguishing a human life. Same-sex marriage doesn’t.

Hillary Clinton will have to explain to primary audiences why she was so late to endorse same-sex marriage. (Suggested answer: secretaries of state don’t weigh in on these issues.) But it’s not likely to be a visible issue otherwise.

Another cultural issue being raised, hesitatingly, by some Democrats is gun control. It’s popular in gentry liberal precincts but, as a recent Pew Research poll indicates, it’s losing support nationally. State laws (and court decisions) allowing responsible citizens to carry concealed weapons have not produced the mayhem opponents predicted. Americans, most of whom supported banning handguns in the 1950s, now seem to firmly support the constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

Then there is marijuana. Medical marijuana is allowed in many states, and voters in Colorado and Washington in 2012 and Oregon in 2014 voted to legalize the substance. Legislators are dealing with ancillary problems — how to regulate retailers, prevent impaired driving, protect children from pot-stuffed brownies. These may prove more troublesome than voters there expected.

But as with same-sex marriage and gun rights, drug legalization is being dealt with by and within the states — and by private citizens in their daily lives. In the 1950s, homosexual sex and marijuana use were crimes, and voters were ready to make handgun possession one too. Now society trusts responsible individuals to engage in these activities responsibly, and almost all do, though the jury is still out on drug use.

Each of these new freedoms involves an element of restraint. Marriage, same-sex or opposite-sex, confers benefits but imposes responsibilities and legal obligations. Carrying guns, like driving automobiles, means obeying rules limiting their use. Ingesting marijuana, like alcohol, should too, though people are still trying to figure out the rules.

America in the mid-twentieth century was a nation of cultural conformity, shaped by common experiences in depression and world war. America now is a nation of cultural diversity, allowing behavior that used to seem deviant. But the arguments over these issues seem stale, and those who dislike the changes can keep living by the rules they prefer.

Republicans should stick to issues like the economy, Obamacare, and illegal immigration in 2016. Those are the winning arguments for the Republican party.

Other Must Read Links:

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