U.S. military forces put terrorist kingpin Osama bin Laden to death in the first half of the year. And Newt Gingrich brought his seemingly moribund presidential campaign back to life in the second half. Both are part of The Hill’s
list of the top 10 political stories of the year.
Here’s the list.
1. Bin Laden, Iraq, and Defense Cuts
The Navy Seals took care of the al-Qaida leader May 1. President Barack Obama received a brief boost in his approval ratings afterward, giving him some immunization against charges he is weak on defense. Obama also brought the Iraq war to an end. But conservatives charge he gave up the fight at the wrong moment. Meanwhile, major cuts loom ahead for the defense budget. Whether and how those cuts are implemented could affect the fortunes of both parties.
2. Gabrielle Giffords
What happened to the Democratic Arizona representative this year shows the best and worst of the human spirit. A crazed gunman in Arizona nearly killed her in January. But Giffords made such an incredible recovery that she was able to return briefly in August to cast a vote in the House. The shooting inspired calls on both sides of the aisle for more civility in Washington.
3. Dissenting Voices
In a poll conducted by The Hill in October, 69 percent of voters said they view the United States as being in decline. The Great Recession clearly has alienated many people. It helped launch the tea party to prominence in 2010, and the Occupy Wall Street movement emerged on the left this year. But unlike the tea party, Occupy Wall Street’s influence appears to be dwindling quickly, as it hasn’t been able to articulate a clear set of goals.
4. Obama: Man in Search of a Message
The president has switched back and forth between a bipartisan approach of working with the opposition and a partisan approach of simply defending the agenda of his liberal base. Also at times, he has simply lashed out at Congress in general, portraying himself as the adult in the room amid squabbling Republicans and Democrats.
5. The Economy
This remains the paramount issue for most Americans, with the unemployment rate still at 8.6 percent and home prices remaining depressed. Now Europe’s debt crisis will likely lead to a recession there, creating more trouble for the U.S. economy.
6. Boehner and the GOP Conservatives
John Boehner realized his dream job of House Speaker this year and then promptly had to deal with restive conservative freshmen in his caucus. Given his persona as the ultimate Washington insider, Boehner did quite well to prevent any serious challenge to his leadership. But twice during the summer, conservatives made him break off talks with Obama over a grand budget bargain.
7. The Reid and McConnell Show
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s main goal, as he stated late last year, was to torpedo Obama’s re-election. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s primary aim was to protect his party’s fragile majority in the chamber. That has made for plenty of Senate squabbles this year, though the two senators were able to reach a deal to raise the debt ceiling.
8. The Debt Ceiling Debate
This was the year’s biggest story on Capitol Hill, according to The Hill. And no one came out looking too good. Obama wasted the opportunity for a debt-ceiling accord when Democrats still had control of the House late last year. His failed negotiations with Boehner drew the ire of liberals, who thought he got snookered by the Republicans, and independents who were upset with the failure to hammer out a grand bargain.
9. Down to the Wire, Again and Again
Public approval ratings for Congress fell to single digits amid its inability to get anything done on major issues until the 11th hour. The government was at risk of shutting down in April and this month as well as defaulting on its debt in August before Congress finally acted.
10. The GOP’s Imperfect Field of Candidates
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney began the year as front-runner in the presidential race. He’s never gone away, but he’s never run away from the pack either. Concern about whether he has flip-flopped his views on major issues and is truly a conservative kept many Republicans from embracing his cause. As a result, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann won the Iowa Straw Poll in August. She was quickly overtaken by Texas Gov. Rick Perry. But he engaged in serial self-destruction through debate flubs and intemperate remarks, leaving the door open for retired businessman Herman Cain. Sexual harassment allegations and his trouble articulating basic policy positions did Cain in. Then Newt Gingrich came back from the dead, but already his poll numbers have begun to slide.
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