Excerpted from the website of the California Catholic Conference, the political action arm of the state’s bishops.

Politics in Washington, D.C., seems to have given way to permanent brinkmanship and zero-sum battles between the extreme elements of both parties. In fact, the 112th Congress has been labeled by many Senators and House members as one of the least effective in U.S. history.

Congress failed to settle much of anything, for instance, in its self-created fiscal cliff crisis that played out during the Christmas season. Aside from extending tax cuts for most Americans, little else was solved and spending discussions were simply pushed off to March – ensuring another self-created crisis.

The list of issues needing bipartisan debate and reform – immigration, taxes, assistance programs for those in need, agriculture, infrastructure – continues to grow. Many of them will continue to be derailed by self-imposed crises. Meanwhile the economy continues to improve and unemployment is slowly diminishing but joint, non-partisan action to address long term issues such as Medicare doesn’t look promising.

Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, the Federal program that authorizes and funds state programs such as CalWORKS, should have been reauthorized in 2010. Congress is yet to act on it as well. As states struggle to provide help for families impacted by the Great Recession, lack of action continues to impact the poor and vulnerable.

The Elementary and Secondary Schools Act is also long overdue for action. The legislation sets standards for schools around the nation, yet it was last comprehensively updated by Congress in 2007.

With the massacre of children and educators in Newtown, Connecticut, a national discussion on guns and violence appears to be starting.

The U.S. Bishops issued a statement calling for a serious look at violence in society and national policies that will strengthen regulations of firearms and improve access to health care for those with mental health needs.

Most seem to be waiting for the result of the Presidential Commission before forecasting the course of this debate.

To read the full statement, click here: https://www.cacatholic.org/index.php/news2/589-2013-outllok-partisanship-halts-progress-on-critical-federal-issues

Government spending and taxes will stay at the top of the political agenda – in California, the U.S. and globally – as the world recovers from the Great Recession. But lawmakers in California at least are openly relishing the opportunity to talk about something other than budget for the first time in years.

Governor Brown has already signaled he wants to look at education funding – targeting more support for California’s highest-need students and actually giving local schools districts more leeway. Perhaps reflecting his early seminary days, Governor Brown often cites the Catholic principles of a preferential option for the poor and subsidiarity in making this argument.

However, an early test of both the supermajority and voter approval of Proposition 30 in November – will be how much of the new revenue goes to “paying back” education and how much goes to funding current programs.

(Since 1998, under voter-approved Prop 98, 40 percent of all state funding must go to education. In the event that level is not reached, a complicated formula determines how much the state must “payback” to schools in subsequent years. )

Because so much of the budget is pre-ordained in ways similar to Prop 98 limits, much of the reduced government spending during the recession was made in safety-net programs. Lawmakers have lowered the amount of time people can receive assistance, reduced or eliminated large portions of Medi-Cal and drastically cut childcare, home health care and senior services to name just a few of the programs that have been drastically scaled back in recent years.

Lawmakers have been discussing the possibility of major reforms in the safety-net program for some time now and may take a fresh look at the option this year.

Concurrently, the Federal Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) which sets minimum standards for aid and provides Federal funds is long-overdue for renewal by the U.S. Congress and may guide any major state reform.

Federal action is also critical in the setting up of California’s health care exchange as mandated by the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The state has moved quickly to implement its own insurance market place. Other states have allowed the Federal government to do that for them.

Other issues likely to arise throughout the year include state realignment, especially in regarding to shifting prisoners from state to local control; the rights of and services for the homeless; and water issues, which often doesn’t receive much public attention, but are a central driver in California politics.

To date, seven bills specifically related to immigration have been introduced in this new legislative session. Bills cover a variety of topics, including issuance and eligibility for driver’s licenses, a possible new governmental “Office of New Americans” and a new resolution calling for improved federal immigration policy reforms.

To read the full statement, click here: https://www.cacatholic.org/index.php/news2/590-2013-outlook-testing-the-limits-of-the-supermajority-in-california