The 111th Congress ended Wednesday with a flurry of legislation and bill signings, capping what historians are already calling the most productive Congress — and certainly the most productive lame duck session, in generations. Together with an active, tenacious president, this congress truly produced change Americans can believe in.
Not since the landmark 89th Congress, which passed Medicare, Medicaid, the Voting Rights Act and the Freedom of Information Act among other things, has there been more accomplished by an American Congress than the one led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the House and Harry Reid in the Senate. Despite the sometimes painful process, and the total, unending obstruction of the Republican minority, the 111th Congress accomplished a breathtaking amount of lawmaking, including:
- The most sweeping healthcare reform since Medicare
- Financial regulatory and credit card reform
- The Lily Ledbetter Act mandating equal pay for women
- A landmark hate crimes law
- Student loan reform that takes the middle men out of the process and makes college more affordable
- The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, otherwise known as the “stimulus” — which economists and the CBO credit with saving the economy from the Great Recession and preventing unemployment rates in the high double digits
And in the lame duck session — another incredible burst of activity that produced still more landmark legislation:
- The repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, ending literally a century’s old policy banning gays from military service
- The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which will make healthy school lunches available to millions of American kids
- The Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010, otherwise known as the tax cut compromise, which freed Republicans to vote for everything that followed, including DADT repeal
- Ratification of the START Treaty — the first nuclear treaty between the U.S. and Russia ever negotiated by a Democratic president
- And last, but certainly not least, passage of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010, which will compensation and provide healthcare for 9/11 first responders — what New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand rightly called the lame duck session’s “Christmas miracle” — after Republican were shamed into backing down.
The Zadroga bill became the emotional touchstone of the lame duck session, along with DADT repeal. By the end, even Fox News host Shep Smith was shaming Republicans for failing to support the bill to aid America’s bravest and finest. Republican Senator Tom Coburn saw his office stormed by firefighters and policemen urging him to support the bill, and in the end, after getting some concessions that lowered the cost of the bill, Coburn relaxed his opposition and the bill passed handily.
Related: E.J. Dionne pays homage to the fallen Democrats of the 111th Congress
Bloomberg sums up the good news and bad news for this extraordinary session:
However history judges the 535 men and women in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate the past two years, one thing is certain: The 111th Congress made more law affecting more Americans since the “Great Society” legislation of the 1960s.
For the first time since President Theodore Roosevelt began the quest for a national health-care system more than 100 years ago, the Democrat-led House and Senate took the biggest step toward achieving that goal by giving 32 million Americans access to insurance. Congress rewrote the rules for Wall Street in the most comprehensive way since the Great Depression. It spent more than $1.67 trillion to revive an economy on the verge of a depression, including tax cuts for most Americans, jobs for more than 3 million, construction of roads and bridges and investment in alternative energy; ended an almost two-decade ban against openly gay men and women serving in the military, and today ratified a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia.
Before adjournment today, Congress approved legislation to help rescuers and clean-up crews suffering from illnesses linked to the wreckage caused by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City. The Senate approved it on a voice vote, the House by a vote of 206-60. New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, in a statement, called it a “Christmas miracle.”
For all of its ambitious achievement, the 111th Congress, which may adjourn this week, also witnessed a voter-backlash driven by a 9.6 percent unemployment rate that cost Democrats control of the House and diminished their Senate majority.
“This is probably the most productive session of Congress since at least the ‘60s,” said Alan Brinkley, a historian at New York’s Columbia University. “It’s all the more impressive given how polarized the Congress has been.”
As lawmakers wrap up the session, Wall Street firms such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc.,JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc. are positioned to complete their best two years in revenue, General Motors Co. has emerged from bankruptcy with more than $23 billion repaid to the U.S. Treasury, and American International Group Inc. was able to sell $2 billion of bonds in its first offering since the company’s 2008 bailout.
The S&P 500 Index has gained 38.9 percent since Congress convened in January 2009, thebiggest increase for a two-year congressional session since 1997-1998, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The S&P 500 Index reached 1254.60 yesterday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average 11533.16.
Stimulus money created and saved jobs across the country, helping strapped state governments retain their workforces, according to government analyses. President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers said that in Ohio, for instance, the legislation created 122,000 jobs for teachers, police officers and construction workers.
“These policies carried the economy along during a period when the private sector was not engaged,’ said Ethan Harris, head of developed-markets economic research in New York at BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research.
The careers of many lawmakers didn’t fare so well. Fiscally conservative Tea Party activists channeled their frustration with government spending and debt into political campaigns, most often to the benefit of Republicans challenging Democratic incumbents. In the Nov. 2 elections, Democrats lost 63 House seats, costing their party control of the chamber in next year’s Congress. In the Senate, the Democratic majority was shaved by six seats; the party will have 53 votes in next year’s session, Republicans 47.
“What we did was work, and our reward was, ‘Get out of here,’” said Representative Louise Slaughter, a New York Democrat and outgoing chairwoman of the House Rules Committee. While Slaughter won re-election, five of her New York colleagues were among Democrats defeated.
Or as they say over at Shoqvalue.com:
The 111th: The most productive Congress in decades, bitches!
Ok then Shoq quotes a bit more sober take from Ezra Klein (circa Monday):
The 111th Congress refuses to go quietly into that sweet night. Friday, of course, saw the $850 billion tax deal sent to President Obama. On Saturday, the Senate broke the filibuster protecting the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell rules. On Sunday, it passed the food safety bill. Those three accomplishments — all of them significant in their own right — now join the 111th’s other achievements: Health-care reform, the financial-regulation bill, the stimulus, Ted Kennedy’s national-service bill, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program and student-loan reform, just to name a few. And the 111th may not be done: Chuck Schumer wants them to stick around to pass a bill giving health benefits to the Ground Zero responders.
That is not to say it hasn’t failed on at least some of what it promised to do.
But for now, spare a thought for the 111th, the most productive Congress we’ve had in decades.
And Shoq concludes:
…does THAT sound like the miserable, anti-progressive Congress and Administration that a few very vocal bloggers have been telling you it was for the past two years? If it does. you’re contributing to a reckless, never-satisfied, never-realistic, and never-reasonable ideological framing that is as destructive to this nation as the Republicans are trying to be every day.
And speaking of Republicans, you know what Jeff Sessions thinks of the just concluded Congress? He thinks this:
“It was a disaster.”
Yeah, that means it must have been great.
The one big, glaring fail for the 111 has been on the DREAM Act, which Republicans blocked with the help of six Democrats — five who voted against their own caucus, and one, Joe Manchin, who didn’t even bother to show up. The White House and Senate Dems must re-fight that battle in 2011, and the president assured the country that he would in his remarks on signing DADT repeal on Monday.
Watch the president sign the bill below:
And here’s a transcript of the president’s press conference on Wednesday, at which he reiterated that the 111th was indeed the most productive Congress we’ve had in decades. And here’s the video: