Midterms cast 'eclipse' over 2014 public affairs agenda

PRWeek asked leading DC agency executives to predict what will set the public affairs agenda in this congressional session and gauge the effect of the November vote.

Members of Congress returned to Capitol Hill on Monday in the shadow of last October's government shutdown and record low public approval ratings, not to mention the rapidly approaching 2014 midterm elections. PRWeek's Laura Nichols asked leading DC agency executives to predict what will set the public affairs agenda in this session and gauge the effect of the November vote.

Everything that is done between now and Election Day 2014 will be about the 2014 election – and that's it. It absolutely casts a shadow, maybe an eclipse. You have a divided Congress, so it's ideologically polarized. The Republicans have virtually no incentive to help the White House pass anything that it wants, and they have a lot of incentive to sharpen the focus for the November elections. Specifically, on the Affordable Care Act, that's a long way away, but the general strategy is if you've got a divided government, it's hard to get anything done. It's a way to position for the elections and run out the clock.”
Robert Moran, partner, Brunswick Group

“The most important issues will be all about posturing for the 2014 midterms and parties appealing to their bases. On the Republican side, in the House, they'll raise issues about the Affordable Care Act and will poke at that and try to find ways to highlight its issues. The Democratic side – we will see more of this in the Senate – will be focusing on issues where they think they can make the argument for income equality, for long-term unemployment compensation that just lapsed. That will be an issue they will push very hard. A budget with actual appropriations should be actually completed after nine or 10 years, and I also believe we will see a push on immigration reform. Democrats and Republicans will be thinking nationally, about 2016. I would be surprised if we saw actual legislation passed.”
Jamie Moeller, MD, global public affairs practice, Ogilvy Washington

“We must get beyond these impasses on the debt ceiling. It's very difficult to focus on other things when this is looming. I feel like progress is being made on that front. It's the first big hurdle. Then, immigration reform is critically important and, obviously, the healthcare legislation. We're hearing constantly about midterms, every day there is a focus on an election, so I don't know that midterms are dramatically different than the “seize the day” mentality that is already in place.”
Margaret Dunning, managing partner, Widmeyer Communications, a Finn Partners Company

“The biggest issues are going to focus around spending. While we have a budget deal that established budget parameters, we still have several other financial issues that need to be resolved. But getting cooperation on any issue has been so challenging that there's no guarantee about how we proceed on these remaining spending issues and the debt ceiling that goes along with it. I hope movement will take place on immigration, as there is both political and policy urgency to finding some common ground on that issue. I suspect you'll continue to see some effort to try and strike some sort of deal that address at least some of those aspects of immigration.”
Howard Opinsky, GM, Hill+Knowlton Strategies in Washington, DC

“The top policy issues will be the debt ceiling and Obamacare; the question is whether or not the parties can find a way to work together on immigration reform – it seems that the Farm Bill has the best shot at getting action, followed by cyber. Given that it is an election year, anything can happen, or, more likely, very little will happen other than political posturing. A historical perspective on midterms is a waste of time in my book – everything has changed.  The two parties are more fractured than ever, and the public far more cynical.”
Dan Hill, president of Ervin Hill Strategies

“Democrats and Republicans are battling right now to set the issue landscape. Republicans want to keep focus on any and all problems with implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and have promised floor votes and committee oversight hearings that do that. Democrats want to focus on issues that highlight their commitment to middle income and working families, such as raising the minimum wage and extending unemployment benefits. The answer to which issue set is “most important” to voters this year will be determined in part by the success of each party, and in part by external events that are yet to be seen.”
Jim Papa, SVP and MD, Global Strategy Group

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