The outgoing 111th Congress is among the most productive in history, in spite of its reputation for gridlock and 13 percent approval rating. Democrats controlled the House and the Senate, and used their large majorities to push through landmark legislation with barely any GOP support.
The post-election lame-duck session – typically a mopping-up operation to get out of town – also made history, passing key pieces of legislation, often with greater input from Republicans than had earlier been the case. People can argue the merits of what Congress did, but it’s hard to quibble with the scope of the undertaking.
Granted, much of the legislation runs antithetical to the interests and values of liberals, and we should note that too. But a lot of what was done was good for a progressive agenda. Let's take a look, in chronologic order:
1) The American Recovery and Re-Investment Act -- Everyone points to the "stimulus" portion of the bill, but the largest part of the bill was a tax cut for you and me. 98% of Americans saw a tax break out of this bill, incremental and therefore obscured by just sloppy minimalism. Too, the roll-out of the spending portion of this bill, which favored pet liberal projects like education, came down the road a bit and the agenda had already been co-opted by Teabaggers. But we ought to make note of the true progressive nature of the stimulus package.
2) Patient Protection And Affordable Care Act -- Healthcare reform. It was nasty, it was ugly, and the ultimate law was a shamble of progressive and conservative philosophies, but it got done and it's a first step in a highly charged and volatile conservative atmosphere.
3) Financial Regulatory Reform -- Want to know how progressive this bill is? It's been priority targeted for budget cuts in the new Republican Congress.
4) Tax Cut Extension Plus Stimulus Spending -- Sadly, when liberals want spending, we usually force ourselves to raise taxes. Here was an instance where the evil of Republicanism, tax cutting, forced liberals to actually borrow to spend. I know, odious, right? But we got the ok to spend to try to get some jobs created, and that's good. It's all about jobs, this economy. We have to get to work on that.
5) DADT -- Nuff said.
6) START Treaty -- This is a great achievement in ratcheting down the threat of mutual annihilation. I don't think anyone...well, after 1962, at any rate...seriously believed any nuclear power would use nukes in any capacity. Until those weapons started to spread to countries who will be less than scrupulous in their use. With both Russia and the US in accord on this issue, we can now turn to those nations and start asking them to dismantle them, with the full authority of speaking on behalf of the rest of the world. What happens then is a different story, but we accomplished a step towards world peace.
Could there have been more? Oh hell yes, and that's where I think most liberals get upset. It took so long to get the modest healthcare reform we did get and that vote alone probably took the wind out of the sails for a true energy policy, for carbon trading, and for any number of other progressive items that we could have easily obtained with supermajorities in both houses.
I blame Obama for not taking the lead on his initiatives, but I also blame Harry Reid for having little stomach for beating up his constituency.