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.
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.
Mat Staver of the The Liberty Counsel said he believes that next year the ACLU will push more cases like this, targeting religious expression in public schools located in conservative areas. The ACLU has already demanded that a school in Enfield, Conn., stop holding its graduation ceremonies at a Christian church. But the economy has struck the ACLU's budget, with the most generous individual donor in ACLU history no longer able to donate and leaving the organization with a 25 percent budget gap.
Freedom of conscience
When Mount Sinai Hospital told nurse Catherina Cenzon-DeCarlo to help perform an abortion, she reminded the hospital that performing abortions violated her religious convictions. The hospital told her she would face disciplinary action if she didn't participate, so DeCarlo was forced to watch as a doctor removed the unborn baby's limbs from the mother's body, and then forced to carry the baby's bloody remains to the specimen room. She is suing-along with other professionals who are fighting for the right to opt out of activities that violate their religious beliefs.
Another nurse, Toni Lemly, was fired after refusing to dispense the "morning after pill." She won her case after the Louisiana Supreme Court refused to hear the hospital's appeal. In New Mexico, the New Mexico Civil Rights Commission found a Christian photographer guilty of discrimination for refusing to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. Julea Ward is filing a lawsuit against Eastern Michigan University after the university dismissed her from its counseling program because she would not affirm homosexual behavior. According to the Alliance Defense Fund, the right of conscience-the liberty to reject participating in abortion or supporting same-sex relationships-may be the next big religious liberty issue.
As a federal judge, liberal appeals court nominee David Hamilton ruled against Christian prayers in the Indiana legislature, ruled against a menorah in a municipal building's holiday display, and overturned a law requiring a woman to get counseling twice before she got an abortion. Senate Republicans tried to stop his nomination but failed, indicating that conservatives will have little power to stop left-leaning appeals court nominees in the year ahead.
There are 97 vacancies out of 858 appeals and district court judgeships, meaning 11 percent of the lower court positions are vacant. So far Obama has been slow to fill the vacancies, with just 26 nominations, and the Senate has confirmed just 10. That's still enough to turn certain courts' margins from conservative to liberal; and if Justice John Paul Stevens decides to retire at the age of 89, President Obama could also nominate a second Supreme Court justice.
Activists will be watching the United Nations on the issues of sexual orientation and population control. In September, the UN agreed to merge four separate UN offices into a new "super agency" to deal with women's issues, which will likely strengthen the UN's abortion advocacy. By the time the Commission on the Status of Women meets March 1-12, the UN hopes to name an under-secretary to head the super agency, which is expected to have a $1 billion budget and 1,000 staffers.
The UN also seems to be linking population control and climate change, since a November UNFPA report raised the global warming alarm, saying "universal access to reproductive health" would "help reduce green-house gas emissions in the long run." There may also be a UN push to recognize "sexual orientation and gender identity" as nondiscrimination categories, said the Catholic Family and Human Rights Organization. International human-rights bodies have been using the Yogyakarta Principles-a document applying international human-rights law to sexual orientation and gender identity-to challenge anti-sodomy laws and call for "hate speech" bans. In a review of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the UN may expand its definition of crimes to include terrorism and international human trafficking.
Rain turned to snow as New Yorkers gathered in front of the federal courthouse building on Dec. 5 to protest admitted terrorist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's trial in New York City. The protesters worried about security concerns and that the wrong judge might throw out the charges on a technicality. But most of all, they were angry that a terrorist who plotted to destroy America will enjoy the rights of a U.S. citizen to trial by impartial jury-a jury that will be hard to find in a place so devastated by 9/11. Since Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times, there are also unresolved questions about whether evidence obtained through torture will be admissible.
Regarding Guantanamo Bay, where Mohammed was kept, the White House has lagged on the deadline for closing it. The president originally said it would close Jan. 22, 2010, and has recently directed the federal government to buy a nearly empty prison in rural Illinois to accommodate the detainees. Since many in the community are grateful for the estimated 3,000 jobs it will bring, local officials agreed. However, in May former vice president Dick Cheney warned, "I think the president will find, upon reflection, that to bring the worst of the worst terrorists inside the United States would be cause for great danger and regret in the years to come."
A global warming bill is coming in 2010, Democrats have vowed. Despite efforts to get the bill to President Obama's desk before the December summit on climate change in Copenhagen, the bill was unable to collect bipartisan support and pass the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is now allotting time for a debate next spring. Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., are working on a new version of the bill that includes offshore drilling, protections for refiners, and a proposal to cut U.S. emissions by 17 percent of 2005 levels by 2020. Sponsors hope these concessions will gather the 60 votes they will need to cut off debate on the bill, but this still leaves the question of the cost-estimated by the Treasury Department to be $100 billion to $200 billion per year-and its effect on economic growth.
The last thing congressional supporters of a $1 trillion healthcare overhaul wanted was for the debate to spill over into the 2010 election year. But healthcare will grab headlines in 2010. Significant differences remain between the Senate and House overhaul bills. Ironing out these variances into one bill for President Obama to sign could take Svengali-like political prowess by Senate and House leaders.
The House has a bipartisan agreement to exclude the federal funding of abortion through the new healthcare plans. The Senate doesn't. The House version creates a government-run insurance option. The Senate version doesn't. Appeasing pro-life lawmakers by including the abortion-funding restrictions could lead to opposition from pro-abortion politicians. Including the government-run insurance plan favored by liberal Democrats could force a sizable voting bloc of moderate Democrats to balk. Likewise, jettisoning any government insurance plan, long the Holy Grail of many Democrats, could lead to a rebellion by frustrated liberals.
Making sure a final compromise garners enough votes in both the House and Senate could occupy the start of 2010, but the real impact of healthcare reform may come in November. That will be the first time voters from across the country will be able to cast their own ballots on the overhaul-by either supporting or opposing lawmakers who have voted for it. With polls showing that more than half of Americans oppose the healthcare plan, expect Republicans to use healthcare as a campaign rallying cry.