Climb into your flannel pajamas. Grow a "Duck Dynasty" beard. Schedule a trip across Chris Christie's bridge, or all the way to Hawaii, if you'd prefer. Rest assured that the NSA knows where you are – but may not for much longer.
Celebrate for a moment the fact that Washington is a peaceful place. A place of bipartisan budget deals, orderly schedules, and easy-to-get reservations over the holidays. A place that Charlie Rangel wants to stay in, that Trey Radel is coming back to, that Jim Matheson is set to leave, and that Max Baucus is ready to get far, far away from.
We don't know the good tidings of 2013 will be remembered in 2014. But here's a glance at some of the stories your ABC News political team will be tracking in the week ahead:
Attention, procrastinators: Monday is the last day to sign up for a health plan under the Obamacare exchanges if you want to be guaranteed coverage beginning Jan. 1. That means an expected crush of holiday-season traffic to the troubled Website – and a particular push to make sure the right types of people are signing up. Most attention is on getting the so-called "young invincibles" to sign up, and state-level data suggest that younger, healthier people are not enrolling in anywhere near the numbers needed to make the system work financially. Plus, the short lead time between this deadline and Jan. 1 – with the holidays in between - means little margin for error on the back end, where most (though not all) of the problems with garbled data going to insurers have been fixed. Add to that new concerns about site security, and we could be talking about the make-or-break week for the remade health care system.
We have budget peace, but it comes with a price. Among the impacts of the agreement that closed out the legislative year was no action on extending unemployment insurance to the long-term out-of-work. Some 1.3 million will see their benefits expire over the holidays, on Dec. 28, and millions more will be cut off over 2014. Democrats in the Senate say they're making that their first priority for 2014, but that's a little late for holiday bills. Between that and cuts to food stamps, the renewed attention to income inequality promised by the president isn't getting off to a great start.
It's retirement season, particularly in the House. Some members of Congress are using their time home with family to realize that they might want to spend more time with their families – or just make more money. Three veteran House members in competitive districts, with a combined 65 years of service in Congress, called it quits this past week -- two Republicans and one Democrat. So far, the list of departing members hasn't broken down along demographic or party lines that suggest that a "wave" election is in the offing, though Democrats have kept their retirement to a minimum. The holiday season has a way of changing spirits, and retirements have a way to presaging big electoral shifts.
Hillary Clinton laid down a calendar marker with her promise to Barbara Walters that she'd make up her mind about a presidential race some time in 2014, to the quiet relief of Democrats who want to make sure they're well positioned for 2016. The will-she-or-won't-she game (the betting is strongly on the "will" side of the ledger) has had the effect of freezing out most other Democrats from open 2016 speculation. Most, but not all: Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer used a visit to Iowa to remind people that "a bunch of Democrats" are still going to have to answer for their votes in favor of the Iraq war, a full decade ago. He didn't mention Clinton – "Did she vote for it? I didn't keep track," Schweitzer told the Des Moines Register – but he didn't have to. With Sen. Elizabeth Warren still ruling out a 2016 run, the Hillary-alternative door is open, in what's left of 2013 and beyond.
|HOLIDAYS AT HOME|
For only the second time in the five years since President Obama was elected, Congress is wrapping up its work without brinkmanship and deadlines that threaten the holidays. That means more time at home for at least most of official Washington. But don't rest too comfortably… President Obama has some significant holiday reading in the review of NSA surveillance programs; he's promising a speech explaining the next steps in January. And congressional staffers are already working on the funding bills that would deliver on the gentlemen's agreement not to shut down the government in January. Fast on the heels of that deadline is another debt ceiling debate, one that's taking on eerily familiar overtones already.
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