The Hill

By Alexander Bolton – 12/09/13 06:00 AM EST

Heading into an election year, Democrats and Republicans are trying to figure out how to salvage their brands after a bruising 2013.

The political year has seen a succession of angry standoffs, starting with the fiscal cliff fight last New Year and ending this week with a Friday the 13th deadline for a budget deal.

Voters are fed up with repeated brinkmanship, and their representatives in Congress are rushing to deflect the backlash toward their opponents or even toward others within their own parties.

“I’m happy to see Thanksgiving and Christmas come around so that we can have some real celebration away from this place because there’s nothing to celebrate around here,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Democrat from Missouri, who lamented the fiasco of the ObamaCare rollout and gridlock over the budget and immigration.

Fiscal stalemate led to a 16-day government shutdown in October. Now, lawmakers are just days away from another budget deadline to prevent automatic spending cuts in January. If they cannot strike a deal, the government could shut down again next month. Jennifer Duffy, senior editor at The Cook Political Report, said, “Both parties have been damaged … Voters are pretty unhappy with everything.”

She said Republicans were damaged by the shutdown they triggered trying to defund the Affordable Care Act and Democrats were damaged once implementation began.

“It creates turnout problems for Democrats,” she said, citing Democrats’ dropping approval numbers among young voters and Hispanics.

“Republicans, of course, have their brand problem, which they’ve done nothing about.”

Seeing Congress’s approval rating hovering around 9 percent, party leaders have decided that offense is their best defense.

Republicans will make ObamaCare their No. 1 campaign issue in 2014.

Big problems with the HealthCare.gov website and the realization that people cannot keep healthcare plans they like, despite President Obama’s promise, pushed the president’s approval rating to near-record lows. A recent Gallup poll put it at 42 percent.

“It’s difficult to damage the president without damaging Democrats in Congress and I think that hurt us,” Cleaver said.

In consequence, Senate Democrats complained bitterly in private meetings with senior administration officials. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Obama’s staff had done him a “disservice” by not qualifying his promise that people could keep their health plans if they wanted to.

Republicans see this issue as vital to capturing control of the Senate in the midterm elections.

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