After the election on November 2nd, I was understandably pessimistic about what progress, if any, would be made during the lame duck session of Congress before the new crop of elected Congresspeople and Senators take office. The Republicans made clear their priorities when they promised to block any legislation until all of the Bush tax cuts were extended. In other words, the top priority for the Republicans was to ensure that wealthiest Americans would not see the marginal tax rate for amounts made over $250,000 (for families) increased approximately 4%. (Please note that any amounts earned under that $250,000 would be taxed at the lower tax rates that would be extended for everyone, so the wealthy would have gotten a tax break no matter what.) Nuclear arms treaty with Russia? Health care for the heroes who were the first responders on September 11th? Tax breaks for those making under $250,000? Nope, not as important.
So, then came the big tax compromise. Liberals gnashed their teeth and whined and moaned about President Obama being weak and giving in to the Republicans. It turned into a circular firing squad with liberal radio talk show hosts like Randi Rhodes and Stephanie Miller being criticized by others for their pragmatism and support of the compromise the President had made. Just like health care reform and the slow progress on Don't Ask Don't Tell, the liberals were furious and disappointed but misdirected this anger at President Obama rather than the Republicans who presented a united front and blocked and obstructed what the President wanted to do.
Things were looking pretty bleak for Democrats at this point. Then, however, we started to see a string of victories. The START nuclear treaty with Russia was approved by the Senate. The repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell first passed in the House of Representatives and then the Senate. Jon Stewart aired a brilliant episode dedicated to the 9/11 First Responders bill, shedding light on the hypocrisy of the Republicans and the complicity of the media in ignoring the story. The Republicans caved and the bill passed. Other less publicized legislation also passed, including new food safety regulations and the Child Nutrition Act. Yes, there were still some disappointments, biggest of all the success of Republicans in blocking the DREAM Act, but overall, it was an amazing set of victories for the President and more importantly, for the country.
My pure speculation is that there are two reasons it was such a successful lame duck session for President Obama. First, I think there was more to the tax compromise than we were told. I think it was broader than just the tax cuts, and President Obama was tougher in these negotiations than it first appeared. Second, I think the Republicans may have started to hear backlash from voters. Their glee after the election was due to the mistaken notion that they were victorious because the people agreed with them philosophically. I think the election results were more a result of anger at the status quo and the anti-incumbent sentiment. In reality, the majority of Americans agree with Democrats more often than Republicans on the issues. For example, the majority of Americans did not support extending the tax cuts for the wealthy. And I am sure the vast majority of Americans support taking care of the 9/11 heroes. It is now becoming clear what the Republicans stand for, and I think they are hearing that people don't like it.
So, the year ended on a high note. I would like to point out, however, that the entire 111th session of Congress was amazing. For all of those who declare that nothing happened, that President Obama hasn't accomplished anything and that you are disappointed in him, please check out this summary of the 111th Congress from outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi's website. It is a truly impressive list. If you think back to the terrible shape the country was in when President Bush left office, in the midst of a severe recession and on the precipice of a depression, it is abundantly clear that this President and this Congress saved this country and accomplished a hell of a lot. I would like to thank President Obama, Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for their tireless work the last two years.
The next two years will be extremely challenging, The right has the better messaging and a powerful media machine. Let's not waste any time arguing amongst ourselves. We progressives must push forward and lend our full and complete support to the President to help him combat the Republicans and their obstructionism.