After the sweeping success of Obama and the Democratic Party in the elections, it's time to look towards the New Year and the start of the president's second term. Despite the promise of debt ceiling fights and a showdown over sequestration, liberals do have a few things to look forward to.
1) The Death of the Defense of Marriage Act: After victories in Maine, Maryland, Washington, and Minnesota this past election, the Marriage Equality movement has a lot to look forward to in 2013. Both California's infamous Proposition 8 and the federal law known as the Defense of Marriage Act will be challenged in front of the Supreme Court this year. Many pundits and activists agree: DOMA is doomed, because it violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution. The first openly gay member of Congress, outgoing Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass.) believes the Court is unlikely to rule that homosexuals have a fundamental right to marriage; however, he points out that "the Supreme Court [could] affirm principles that are already decided" by the lower courts. With the Obama administration still refusing to defend DOMA in court, it seems the discriminatory law's days are numbered. The decision is expected in June.
2) Gun Control: After the tragedy in Newtown (and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Tucson), support among Americans for gun control legislation is at its highest point in a decade, with 58% saying they backed tougher laws. This public support has galvanized Democrats in Washington DC (and around the country) to push new gun regulations: eight bills were introduced on the first day of the new 113th Congress alone, and Senator Feinstein (D-Calif.) says she will introduce an updated, and more encompassing, version of the 1994 Assault Weapons ban. Perhaps most exciting for pro-gun control activists is the leadership of the White House, with Obama pledging to spend political capital and even time in his State of the Union address on the issue. Vice President Biden's commission is also considering sweeping new requirements that go much farther than Feinstein's proposal, signaling the commitment of the White House to meaningful reform.
3) Immigration Reform: As early as September 2012, pundits and politicians alike believed "it was a lock" that Obama would use his second term to pursue comprehensive immigration reform. The president already has momentum from the success of his pseudo DREAM Act executive order (widely praised by Latino activists) and his reelection, where he won over 70% of the Hispanic vote. A bipartisan group of Senators (known as the Gang of Eight) has already started working on a deal, and Obama has signaled he will begin pushing for the discussion as early as this month; advocates are cautious but optimistic, especially since House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) broke the "Hastert Rule" during the fiscal cliff battle. For supporters, it means the Speaker may be willing to bypass the more extreme members of his caucus to pass a bill with Democrats. Given that the massive infrastructure that helped Obama take back the White House will remain in place for a "social media blitz," liberals should dig in for a long-awaited fight.
4) Changes in the Senate: With the new 113th Congress now sworn in, all eyes are on the Senate where several exciting changes are taking shape. The first is the possibility of filibuster reform, something liberals have been arguing for since 2006. The filibuster was used "nearly 400 time in the [last session], which will go down as the least productive since the 1940s;" arguably, the biggest Senate story of the New Year has been just how dysfunctional the body was in the previous session. To that end, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and the Democrats have been whipping the votes for a fundamental rules change that requires a filibustering Senator to hold the floor and explain his or her case to the American people. If they are successful, Republicans (who are often the culprits) will no longer be able to hold up bills and appointments silently or anonymously, and the reform will have a significant positive effect on the gridlock that has plagued the Senate. Other changes in the Senate that will have liberals smiling are the committee appointments. Elizabeth Warren, a rising progressive star from Massachusetts, has a spot on the Senate Banking Committee, giving her jurisdiction on banking and financial regulations. Other liberal favorites have been given important appointments, including Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) to the Banking Committee and the Finance Committee, as well as Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) to the Budget Committee.
5) The Affordable Care Act's New Provisions: Elections have consequences, and President Obama's win ensures that the Affordable Care Act will be fully implemented, much to the chagrin of House Republicans. While many of its provisions go into effect in 2014, this year will see several positive steps towards a progressive health care system. First, seniors stuck in the infamous Medicare Part D "doughnut hole" will start qualifying for coverage, with the gap to be closed entirely by 2020. Second, in the fall, individuals and small businesses will be able to buy insurance in a competitive marketplace run by state exchanges. While many states run by Republicans are refusing to establish the exchanges, the ACA also creates a federal program, ensuring all Americans will be able to buy competitive insurance. Finally, the most controversial aspect of the law will continue towards full implementation: more and more insurance plans will be required to provide co-pay-free contraception coverage. Many plans were "grandfathered in" to the ACA, meaning they did not have to comply fully. However, a brief from the Obama administration in 2010 indicates that almost 70% of all plans will lose their grandfathered status this year and begin offering contraception coverage. Indeed, by the end of 2013, "Obamacare" will be ready to rollout the entire program, something liberals have been waiting for since its passage.