Members of Congress are enjoying their first, full Christmas recess since President Obama took office. Over the last five years, the legislative branch has delayed its holiday break or returned early for major votes over Christmas and New Year's, on divisive issues like health care, the fiscal cliff and unemployment benefits.
In 2013, Congress managed to fight its battles earlier in the year. This year, the Senate affected major change back in November, as Gregory Downs, professor of history at the City University of New York, noted in a recent New York Times Room for Debate column. Led by Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Democrats used the so-called "nuclear option" to enact filibuster reform, prohibiting its use for most presidential appointements.
Downs reviews the highlights of the year in Congress, and looks ahead to changes in 2014.