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Issues to watch

2010 Preview | 2010 will likely have its own defining political issues set against the backdrop of what could be volatile midterm elections

Issue: "2010 The Year Ahead," Jan. 16, 2010

Last year was the year of healthcare and the stimulus in Washington. And while those topics will continue to garner headlines in the new year, 2010 will likely have its own defining political issues set against the backdrop of what could be volatile midterm elections. Will Democrats slow down their push toward bigger gov­ernment and social change in the face of a voter backlash, or will they see 2010 as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to enact their agenda regardless of the electoral consequences? Will liberal groups succeed in restricting religious expression and the rights of conscience of healthcare workers as government expands its reach? How the following issues play out will provide answers to those questions.


Once the Obama administration has turned its attention from healthcare, dealing with the nation's 12 million illegal aliens will take precedence. The administration has said that it would like to see a comprehensive immigration reform bill next year-one cracking down on businesses that hire illegal aliens and reforming immigration fraud laws, while at the same time bringing illegal aliens "out of the shadows" to forge a pathway toward legal status. House Democrats have just proposed a strongly pro-immigration bill and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said that he wants to see a debate within the first half of next year.

Senators took sides long ago, with 12 GOP senators writing a public letter to Department of Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano saying, "With all due respect, legalizing those who have no legal right to be in the United States will not be a 'boon' to American workers. Rather, it would only exacerbate the unfair competition American workers currently face as they struggle to find jobs." They also questioned the administration's commitment to border security.

Same-sex marriage

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After a bruising year for same-sex marriage advocates-from the California Supreme Court case upholding Proposition 8 to the Maine ballot measure overturning same-sex marriage legislation to the defeat of same-sex marriage legislation in New York and the delay in New Jersey-the fight will continue as same-sex marriage advocates try to build momentum with the claim that time is on their side. The new year is already beginning with a battle: In Washington D.C., advocates for traditional marriage will fight to get a court or Congress to block a recent city council measure that would let same-sex couples marry. Marion Barry, one of two dissenting votes on the measure, warned earlier that there would be a fight: "The black community is just adamant against this."

In New Hampshire, where the legislature legalized same-sex marriage, pro-family groups will not be able to overturn the bill by a voter referendum, but voters can cast their vote on nonbinding local referenda. The National Organization for Marriage has promised to put the issue on the ballot in municipal elections statewide so voters can make their views known. Same-sex marriage advocates have put legalization of gay marriage or civil partnerships on the ballots in other states (see "Ballot box: Same-sex marriage," Jan. 16, 2009).


While some economic indicators are looking up, unemployment continues to bludgeon America's workers, with the jobless rate exceeding 10 percent in November. A job creation bill will be on next year's agenda. In a Dec. 8 speech, President Obama outlined his plan for job creation: eliminating capital gains taxes for small business investments, giving a tax incentive to encourage small businesses to add workers, and guaranteeing small business loans. He also urged Congress to spend more on public works projects and give incentives for Americans to make their homes more energy efficient.

To do all this and also extend job relief without growing the deficit, Democrats have suggested using money from the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) as banks slowly repay the multi-billion-dollar loans the government gave them. A job creation bill, according to estimates by House Democrats, could cost up to $200 billion-but Republicans are already drawing the lines against more spending. In a letter to Obama, House Republicans called for halting regulation and tax increases and freezing government spending. Said Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., "It seems that the policy of this administration on job creation is, 'If you got it, spend it.'"

Religious freedom in schools

When a co-worker lost her 2-year-old child and came to Michelle Winkler for comfort, the two hid behind a closed door to pray-afraid they would violate an ACLU-spurred court order squelching religious expression in their public school. The ACLU had claimed that Santa Rosa County School District leaders wrongly proselytized and promoted their faith. A court order led to three staff, including Winkler, being found in contempt of court for directing prayer at school-sponsored events. "Communication with a deity" is now prohibited at school events, and school officials are not allowed to bow their heads in prayer if someone else is praying, or even directly reply to an email that contains religious language.


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