The 112th Congress takes their seats today, bringing a new Republican majority to the House and a reduced Democratic majority to the Senate. The legislators, new and old, face a daunting set of political and policy problems, from working with each other to addressing the troubled economy. Here are five of the biggest challenges that journalists and pundits have picked out for the new Congress.

  • Education Reform  "No Child Left Behind is due to be reauthorized this year," The Washington Post's Shailagh Murray writes, "and presents the type of opportunity that was absent in a Democratic-led Congress, with its close ties to powerful teacher unions." Here's the deal:
Obama wants to continue the public education reforms that he began with federal stimulus funding, while many GOP lawmakers are eager to protect the No Child Left Behind testing requirements, one of President George W. Bush's signature domestic policy achievements. The upcoming reauthorization debate could provide an ideal opportunity for bipartisan dealmaking, especially given incoming House speaker John A. Boehner's central role in crafting the original bill."
  • Raising the Debt Ceiling  Failure to raise the debt ceiling would shut down the federal government, but the New York Times' Michael Shear says it's already causing "brewing disagreements between the Tea Party lawmakers, who oppose raising the nation's debt limit, and their Republican leadership, which has already acknowledged that such a move could threaten to derail the nation's shaky economic recovery. Republican leaders played down those potential areas of conflict."
If a divided Democratic Caucus ends up settling on filibuster reform that doesn't solve any of the actual problems with the filibuster--that is to say, it neither reduces the time wasted in constant cloture votes (and their associated three-to-four days of waiting around) nor revises the 60-vote threshold that now applies to everything in the Senate--they will have fought a bitter and brutal battle over the Senate rules for, well, nothing. ... Some Senate Democrats are taking this as a reason to back off of filibuster reform. It isn't. It's a reason to double down.
  • Health Care Repeal  Slate's David Weigel says it's more about posturing for the Tea Party. "Incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor faced off with a skeptical press corps this afternoon, defending the Republican majority's plan to vote on repeal of health care reform even though it has no serious chance of getting through a Democratic-run Senate," he reports. "One thing Republicans have not done as they tee up repeal is provide a score or an economic analysis of how much repeal would cost or save--Democrats point to their CBO score and say the GOP response would blow up the deficit."
  • Deficit Reduction  Outside the Beltway's Doug Mataconis raps Republicans on the knuckles for suggesting their might roll back their promise to cut $100 billion from the budget. "Less than twenty-four hours before the 112th Congress is set to convene, House Republicans are already backing off their pledge to cut $100 Billion from the Federal Budget," he sighs. "This is not an auspicious beginning guys."