UPDATE: Republican Senators are now conceding the START treaty is likely to be ratified this week.
After two years in which it seemed the United States Senate couldn’t get anything done, suddenly, in the lame duck session, the 111th Senate seems to have gotten much of its groove back, and in so doing, they’ve helped President Obama get his groove back, too.
Forget slow and steady. By keeping the Senate in session until the brink of Christmas, Harry Reid seems to have lit a fire under his caucus, and even managed to pry some Republicans out of Mitch McConnell’s grip. And so, the Senate has accomplished more than pretty much anyone thought they would, including:
- Passing Barack Obama’s tax cut deal — considered a big political win for the president (and a Godsend to 2 million unemployed — although the bill has a serious flaw in leaving out the 10 percent of the unemployed who have already exhausted 99 weeks of benefits);
- Repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which was a top priority for liberal and gay rights activists who have been angry at the White House, and who he needs in 2012 to volunteer and write checks for his re-election campaign;
- Getting a cloture vote on the DREAM Act, which put Republicans on the record for all Hispanic voters to see, though the vote failed (in part due to five defecting Democrats);
- Passing a landmark food safety bill that the first lady had been instrumental in pushing through;
- Passing the Local Community Radio Act, which has the potential to open the airwaves to new, maybe even local, radio — a potentially critical advance for liberals, who currently are largely frozen out of talk radio by the right;
And Democrats now say they are poised to pass two more major pieces of legislation important to the caucus, but opposed by most Republicans:
- Ratifying the START treaty; though that’s still not a guarantee;
The biggest failings of the lame duck are clearly the DREAM Act, which I predict in the end will prove more important politically, because it impacts a much broader voter group, than DADT repeal; and the fact that the tax deal did nothing to help the 99ers, whose cause will continue to rankle Democrats, and put strain on state Medicaid and anti-poverty budgets going forward.
Also, the administration has gambled a lot on the tax deal actually bearing fruit in terms of improving the economy and the jobs picture. And the continuing problem of troubled mortgages and foreclosures has got to be addressed.
Still, thanks to Harry Reid’s smart maneuvering, and the much more active president in getting directly involved in negotiations, Democrats won’t have to fight key battles like tax cuts on more Republican-friendly ground in the next Congress.
Not bad for a lame duck.
Meanwhile, ABC’s The Note breaks down the winners and losers:
President Obama is already well on his way to getting a lot of what he wanted during the lame duck session of Congress — a feat that, as we noted last week, has earned him the “Comeback Kid” label in some quarters. But what about the rest of Washington?
We’ve been doing some year-end score keeping and here’s how we see the lay of the land:
Liberal Groups: Activists on the left helped successfully push the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but their advocacy against the tax cut compromise plan fell flat. Will they go after the “appeasers” in the House and Senate who voted for the bill?
And don’t forget about what the left sees as Democratic capitulation on another element of the Obama — the DREAM Act, which would have offered a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants. Liberals like Markos Moulitsas of the DailyKos are already seething at Montana Democratic Sen. John Tester, who is up for re-election in 2012, for voting against it. “To me, he is the Blanche Lincoln of 2012 — the Democrat I will most be happy to see go down in defeat,” Kos wrote over the weekend. “And he will.” Read more
The Tea Party: This loosely-knit, but powerful political force in 2010 has largely been silent during the closing days of this year’s legislative session. Are they just waiting for the GOP to take power in the House and for more of their stalwart supporters to be sworn into the Senate? The Tea Party has lacked both a public face and an organizational structure. And the absence of a real legislative agenda suggests they may have less impact in 2011.
Moderates: Remember how they were “dead” after the midterms? Not so much. There was no way that repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the passage of the tax bill would have happened without them. Meanwhile, Sen. Scott Brown, R-Ma., who cast a key vote in favor of repealing DADT, is making it hard for Democrats to build a case against him for 2012.
Nancy Pelosi: Our big question about outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is: Where has she been? And others are asking the same thing. A headline in the left-leaning magazine Mother Jones today reads: “Pelosi Goes AWOL.” Writes, Mother Jones’ Suzy Khimm: “In the final stretch, Pelosi and her deputies seemed disconnected from their Democratic comrades.” Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who has been one of Pelosi’s top lieutenants, was a public face of House Democrats on taxes — will he do more in 2012 — and will the former House Speaker stay in the shadows?
Mitch McConnell: The Senate Minority Leader lost on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but, so far, he’s keeping his team together on the START. “I’ve decided that I cannot support the treaty,” McConnell said on CNN’s “State of the Union” yesterday. But, what happens when Tea Party favorites like Rand Paul and Marco Rubio come to town?
“It’s going to be a question of how seriously does the Republican leadership take the power base that’s now taking their seats in Congress in January,” Tea Party Patriots founder Mark Meckler told ABC News’ Huma Khan. “If they take it seriously and if they govern according to the mandate that the American people have given them, then I think it’ll be fine. If they don’t, then you’re going to see a lot of in-fighting. You’re going to see freshmen who are putting up a serious fight and ultimately you will see a bit more house cleaning in 2012.” Read more
PUSHING THEIR START BUTTONS. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., rolled out what he hopes will be a hard-line, either-your-with-us-or-you’re-against-us, message on ratification of the new START arms reduction treaty. “After months of consideration and five days of open and robust debate, it is time to move forward on a treaty that will help reverse nuclear proliferation and make it harder for terrorists to get their hands on a nuclear weapon,” Reid said yesterday. “As we move ahead, I look forward to continuing to debate amendments. But soon this will come down to a simple choice: you either want to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists, or you don’t.”
But do Democrats have the votes? Politico’s Scott Wong breaks it down: “Senate Democrats appear to have enough votes to overcome a Republican filibuster ? though it’s unclear if they will have the 67 votes needed for ratification. At least four Republicans have committed to supporting the U.S.-Russia treaty or are leaning that way, including two who say they will vote for cloture. If Democrats can hold their 58-member caucus together, that would likely put them at or over the 60-vote threshold required to end debate on the treaty and move forward.” The Senate will resume debate on START today, heading into closed session this afternoon to discuss classified information relating to the treaty. Read more
And one more thing:
And as ABC’s Rick Klein notes, “perhaps the only major political figure who can plausibly claim victory in all of the major areas is President Obama. It will get harder from here, but the seeds of a political comeback — or, at least, the suggestion that such a comeback is possible — have been planted in the interim period before Republicans take over the House.” Read more