The lame-duck congressional session proved anything but lame.
When it finally came to a vote, the supposedly controversial New START arms treaty with Russia drew 71 supporters in the Senate, including Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia. The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” drew 65 Senate votes, with only 31 opposed, a margin of better than two to one that left John McCain, the Angry Old Man of the Senate, stewing in his own resentment.
Liberals who condemned President Obama for his tax-cut negotiations with Republicans should acknowledge that the deal swung the door open to other important accomplishments. Until that issue was taken off the table, nothing else was going to pass.
Ron Brownstein, writing in National Journal, concludes that the list of Democratic accomplishments in this two-year session of Congress is longer than that of any party since the days of LBJ.
“Health care and financial-services reform top that list. The 2009 economic-stimulus package contained, by some measures, more net new public investment in education, infrastructure, and clean energy than Bill Clinton achieved during his entire two terms. Other significant wins included bills that restructured and increased college financial aid, toughened pay-equity laws for women, expanded national service, and provided new credit card protections to consumers. This week’s Senate vote approving the New START pact provided Obama a bipartisan foreign policy-victory that steamrolled the opposition of the GOP Senate leadership… The repeal of the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that Obama signed this week concluded an effort to allow gays to serve openly that dated back to Clinton’s 1992 campaign. Earlier, Obama signed legislation protecting sexual orientation under the hate-crimes law and more closely equalizing the penalties for possession of powder and crack cocaine–in each case implementing changes key Democratic constituencies have likewise sought since the 1990s.”
Of course, Democrats paid a heavy price for that success in November, surrendering their once-significant majority in the House and losing seats in the Senate as well. But that gets us back to an age-old question: Is political power best used to preserve political power, or do you use it to actually get things done? The Democrats and Obama took the second option, although I doubt they fully realized it at the time.
– Jay Bookman