Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 23, 2010

DOING WHAT THEY WERE ELECTED TO DO.... The American Enterprise Institute's Norman Ornstein had a very good piece a while back that characterized the 111th Congress as the most productive in 45 years.

That was in January. In the 11 months since, policymakers have put together a record of success that rivals any two-year stretch in the modern era. NBC's Mark Murray had a good item on this earlier in the week.

With an approval rating in the teens, Congress right now is about as popular as Julian Assange at the State Department's Christmas Party -- or Sarah Palin at The Nation's editorial meeting, or President Obama at a Federalist Society convention.

And, politically, the Democratic-controlled Congress took a beating from voters in November, as Republicans won back control of the House and picked up seats in the Senate.

But lost in the poll numbers and the voters' message in November is this one unmistakable fact: This Congress, which likely will come to a close this week, accomplished more, legislatively, than any other Congress since the 1960s (the Great Society) or the 1930s (the New Deal).

Ornstein noted yesterday, "This is the most dysfunctional political environment that I have ever seen. But then you have to juxtapose that with [this Congress being] one of, at least, the three most productive Congresses" since 1900. He added that the 111th "edges the Great Society" in terms of accomplishments.

I'm aware of the fact that this record hasn't exactly impressed voters, many of whom don't even realize that this two-year stretch was productive at all. A weak economy, stunted discourse, and partisan enthusiasm gap contributed to massive GOP electoral gains, Dems' dramatic accomplishments notwithstanding.

But the historic record is nevertheless undeniable. It's hard to even know where to start.

We are, after all, talking about a two-year span in which Democratic policymakers approved the Affordable Care Act, the Recovery Act, Wall Street reform and a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, student loan reform, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal, a critically important nuclear arms treaty with Russia, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the biggest overhaul of our food-safety laws in 70 years, new regulation of the credit card industry, new regulation of the tobacco industry, a national service bill, expanded stem-cell research, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, net neutrality, the most sweeping land-protection act in 15 years, health care for 9/11 rescue workers, and some other accomplishments I'm probably forgetting*.

All of this was accomplished in the midst of multiple crises here and around the world, and for the first time in American history, with mandatory supermajorities in the U.S. Senate. And don't get me started on the disaster Dems inherited -- Great Recession, two deadly wars, a jobs crisis, a massive deficit and budget mess, crushing debt, etc. -- after the spectacular Republican failures of the Bush/Cheney era.

Some of the recent victories have been decades in the making -- in the case of health care reform, politicians have been talking about a major overhaul for a full century -- but it took this Congress and this president to get it done.

To be sure, the "season of progress," as President Obama called it yesterday, is over. A new Congress will begin next month, with what will likely be the most reactionary right-wing House majority in the modern political era. If you're not expecting bitter ugliness, you're probably not paying attention.

Still, the Congress that wrapped up its work yesterday was truly remarkable. Something Rachel Maddow said last month continues to ring true: "Democrats had a choice when they became the governing party. When they won those last two elections and they took control of the two branches of government that are subject to partisan control in our country, they could have governed in a way that was about accumulating political capital with the primary goal of winning the next election. They could have governed in constant campaign mode. Or they could have governed in a way that was about using their political capital, not accumulating more of it, about spending the political capital they had to get a legislative agenda done, to tackle big, complex, longstanding problems that had languished."

Democrats paid a high price, but they chose wisely.

* Update: As various readers have reminded me, I forgot the child-nutrition bill, expanded S-CHIP, and the confirmation of two Supreme Court justices.

Steve Benen 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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Comments

flash forward to next year, when all the legislative victories start paying off - the Republicans will take all the credit ...

Posted by: Tang on December 23, 2010 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

Unfortunately, Republicans have managed to convince a large segment of the American public that Congress accomplishing things is a bug, not a feature.

Posted by: dalloway on December 23, 2010 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

I know it is easy to armchair quarterback and be disappointed with what might have been. But I am so incredibly happy to have Obama as President. Especially given the option was John McCain.

Posted by: Objective Dem on December 23, 2010 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

I blame Obama.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on December 23, 2010 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, it's stunning to see what's been accomplished. Some of it's a bit watered down, but hey, it's still a first step.
Those of us on the left who read Steve B., Steve M., maha, Kos, BJ, are aware of this. Now, how to get the MSM, besides MSNBC and the NY Times, to let people know? Because you can be sure FOX is spinning all of this as the end of the world as we know it.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on December 23, 2010 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

Nothing is more dangerous to our freedoms than activist legislators.

Posted by: Al on December 23, 2010 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

You may read a different Kos than I do.

The DK I read thinks the 111th Congress ranks with the 1932-33 Reichstag on the "Great Parliamentary Bodies" leader board.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on December 23, 2010 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

...and some other accomplishments I'm probably forgetting.

Shark Protection Act?

Posted by: Marko on December 23, 2010 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe we should have Christmas four times a year, then they'd REALLY be "productive."

All it took for the 9/11 responders was nine (9!) years and a sit-in at Senator Coburn's office.

Where, exactly is McConnell's office? There are a bunch of people that want to have a chat!

Posted by: Doug on December 23, 2010 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

REAL DELPHI advice.... This is very cool and applies today, but it was written in the 9th century BC as Sparta was setting up it's constitution;

There are two roads, most distant from each other: the one leading to the honorable house of freedom, the other the house of slavery, which mortals must shun. It is possible to travel the one through manliness and lovely accord; so lead your people to this path. The other they reach through hateful strife and cowardly destruction; so shun it most of all.

Posted by: KurtRex1453 on December 23, 2010 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

Congratulate yourselves all that you want, but a tree falling in an empty forest is still not heard and neither will the Amerikan Publik hear about democratic party successes.

While Fox News may be the artillery of our corporately owned propaganda machine and will continue to tell its viewers what a disaster this Congress has been; CNN/ABC/NBC/CBS/PBS/AP are the foot soldiers of our propaganda machine and they will make sure that the best that democrats can hope for is that the publik is 'only confused'.

Posted by: RepublicanPointOfView on December 23, 2010 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

From above: Posted by: RepublicanPointOfView on December 23, 2010 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

Yea - what he said!!

Posted by: Mark-NC on December 23, 2010 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

Democrats paid a high price, but they chose wisely.

I don't think they did. I would say that if they had not fought to achieve compromise with Republicans but had 'governed in a way that was about accumulating political capital with the primary goal of winning the next election', if they had worked to demonize Republicans and conservatives and called them out and fought against them instead of fighting to keep them in the room, they wouldn't have gotten any of that done, but they wouldn't have spent their political capital and they'd have accumulated an incredible amount more of it for the long term fight ahead.

Because our historical problem is not about keeping those people in the room, it's about getting rid of them, that's what Obama's election was all about and that's where he's failed catastrophically.

Posted by: cld on December 23, 2010 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

Davis X. Machina,
Thanks for the catch. Yup, a big oopsie on Kos. I'm remembering DK before Obama and the Dem's became the greatest sell-outs of all time. I still read it, I just don't like it as much. And I'm no Obamabot. I have a lot of problems with things that have gone on, and are still going on.
But, Jesus, get a grip people. He ain't perfect, but he ain't horrible either. Not half bad...
Ornstein's no bleeding heart, so if he thinks Obama and this Congress done good, who am I to argue? I'm still stunned that enough RepubliConfederates voted on repealing DADT. If nothing else, that's a terrific step forward.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on December 23, 2010 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

(the 2011 Republican House will be )"the most reactionary right-wing House majority in the modern political era."

And perhaps, when the voting public finally sees what they are doing, some will say, "I voted for THIS?"

Posted by: DAY on December 23, 2010 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

And let's remember too that the Democratic Congress under Polosi also passed over 300 bills that would benefit Americans in all kinds of ways that go unacted upon by the Senate .. where the minority controls the majority. And, of course, this fact is totally ignored by the likes of the corporate sluts called Brian Williams, Katie Couric, and Diane Sawyer .......

Posted by: stormskies on December 23, 2010 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

Because our historical problem is not about keeping those people in the room, it's about getting rid of them, that's what Obama's election was all about and that's where he's failed catastrophically.

Spoken like a true partisan who places politics over policy.

And this is exactly my complaint against those attacking Obama from the left: They act as if Obama's selling out liberalism, when in fact, their real complaint is that he doesn't attack Republicans enough. Yell at him for his political strategy all you want, but don't fool yourself into thinking you're doing so on ideological grounds.

It's all about politics with you people. You'd rather see Obama insult Republicans than see him help people. I, on the other hand, am not the least bit ashamed by all the good Obama's done.

Posted by: Doctor Biobrain on December 23, 2010 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

"...over 300 bills that would benefit Americans in all kinds of ways."

You mean "over 300 bills that would strip Americans of their Freeeeeeeedom&trade in all kinds of ways".

(Freeeeeeeedom&trade is a registered trademark of the Republican National Committee. All rights reserved. Used with permission.)

Thought I'd do the regulars a favor. Even trolls need a break for lunch.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on December 23, 2010 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

I've been posting the accomplishments all year; people have written back to me in sheer amazement. One said, "I sent your comment to my relatives, because they thought nothing had been done."

The newspapers and media have been so blinded by the nasty bullying rhetoric of the Republicans, they have failed to notice that these guys LOST BIG TIME. So they won the House, but not the Senate, and they have no program except to cut and kill.

That may not be enough in the long run to get voters on their side, although their donors and their lobbyist friends will reward them handsomely for this.

Posted by: jjm on December 23, 2010 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

"If you're not expecting bitter ugliness, you're probably not paying attention."
***

During the Christmas break, Dems need to start practicing to see how many times they can shake their heads sadly but calmly while saying 'Republican over-reach' in every sentence they utter for the next two years.

Posted by: Seould on December 23, 2010 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

Just a couple of other things that congress or the President got done that are pretty good but tend to be forgotten:

-Dana and Chrostpher Reeve Paralysys Act

-Weapons System and Acquisition Reform where for the first time in ages weapons systems were actually cut

-Reduced the mandatory minimum on crack to be more in line with cocaine

-Lifted the travel/immigration ban on those with HIV/AIDS

-Made it substantially easier for Vetrans with PTS Disorder to get benefits

-Passed the most progressive budget bill in a generation

-Ended raids on places that sell medical marijuana

-A Passenger's Bill of Rights

-Rescued the Auto Industry


Posted by: EM on December 23, 2010 at 7:55 PM | PERMALINK

Doctor Biobrain, It's all about politics with you people. You'd rather see Obama insult Republicans than see him help people.

No. I'd like to see him help people a lot, and I'm glad that he can help a lot of people the way he has been.

It's the scale of the opportunity he missed that's appalling. After George Bush conservatives were set up to take a catastrophic collapse and all Obama had to do was let them do what they were going to do anyway. His initiatives these past two years would have gone nowhere, but he wouldn't have lost anything this past November, and in the future the Progressive advantage would only have accelerated.

But that isn't how he worked the circumstances; he helped the Republicans up, gave them respectability, dusted them off --and here they are, and here they'll stay for years.

If you're really interested in helping people, helping those people isn't going to do the trick.

Barack Obama would have been a great President in a different era, the 1920s or the 1950s, but he's not going to even see the only real threat we actually face.

Posted by: cld on December 23, 2010 at 7:58 PM | PERMALINK

wasn't there also Student Loan reforms that were signed into law?
If I recall didn't it strip something away from the banks and save the Federal Government money?

Posted by: gus on December 24, 2010 at 12:29 AM | PERMALINK

Obviously your evaluation and Fred Barnes' differs a bit. In his "Obama's Lame Duck Luck" (http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/obamas-lame-duck-luck_524813.html)he points out that nothing of any value or importance was done. About DADT and START he says. "Neither issue was a huge deal."
So, after fighting tooth and nail to save the nation, the Repubs are again redefining defeat as victory.

Posted by: Marc on December 24, 2010 at 8:01 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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