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Not so lame duck

December 23, 2010

It’s been an eventful week or so in US lawmaking.  On one hand we have had the Republicans puffing chests and beating the war drums, emboldened by their gains in November, and using the extension of the Bush Tax Cuts as a ways and means to stop any and all legislation that the Obama administration has wanted to push through.

Mitch McConnell minority leader of the House, wrote a letter co-signed by all Republicans that said until the Bush Tax Cuts were extended nothing that Obama wanted to get through in the so called Lame Duck session, would be passed. And for a while that seemed likely.

Key votes on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, START and the 9/11 Health Care Bill (H.R. 847 James Zagroda Bill), have been held up with the premise that once the tax cuts were passed, until it was ratified by Obama still the Republicans would hold up the rest of the votes.

And then of course, as we saw with the H.R. 847 bill, once the ratification excuse no longer had wings, every other excuse under the sun was used.

However slowly but surely a resurgence began to emerge.  Last weekend Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed, despite the last-minute attempts by John McCain and Lindsay Graham to fear monger lawmakers into believing that passing repeal would be a “sad day” and that this would somehow endanger the troops.

And this week, despite the many excuses by various Republicans, including calling it an entitlement program, the James Zagroda bill which will see funds set aside for 9/11 First Responders, many of whom are terminally ill from toxic fumes breathed in at Ground Zero, has been passed.

Yes the bill is slightly watered down – instead of the $7 billion originally set aside and instead of the $6 billion the Republicans had originally wanted it to be pushed down to, the final settlement will be $4 billion, but it has passed and it will make a significant difference to people who are heroes, people who the Republicans used for political gain and yet weren’t willing to help when the time came.

similarly the Senate voted for START, a historic bill that has its beginnings going back to the Reagan era. START is an arms-control treaty, and is President Obama’s hopes for a world without nuclear arms. As Think Progress describes the bill:

It ensures that nuclear stability is maintained and lays the groundwork for future negotiations with Russia, paving the way for deeper cuts in the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Republicans towards the ends in their attempts to stop the passage of START had resorted to increasingly desperate excuses, which has led some to accuse the Republicans of looking weak on National Security issues.

As Dana Milbank for the Washington Post wrote in an op-ed yesterday:

The lame-duck session of Congress has introduced Americans to the three-party system of government: the Democratic Party, the Republican Party and the Petulant Party

Milbank goes on to quote Senator’s Jim DeMint, Lindsay Graham and John Kyl who all used Christmas as an excuse not to pass the bill.

  • Demint: “The fact that we’re doing this under the cover of Christmas, is something to be outraged about.”
  • Graham: “Here we are, the week of Christmas, about to pass potentially a treaty.”

Kyl had already accused the Democrats of pushing through their agenda and  “disrespecting one of the two holiest of holidays for Christians.”

As Milbank goes on to say:

Of course, the Petulants’ objections have little to do with yule. You don’t defy the national security judgment of the U.S. military and reject the wisdom of generations of GOP elder statesmen simply because you have concerns related to the Advent calendar.

Petulant leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) spelled out the real reason on the Senate floor Monday. McConnell, who said Republicans’ “single most important” goal was Obama’s defeat, said that in this case he didn’t want to facilitate “some politician’s desire to declare a political victory and host a press conference before the first of the year.”

Yet despite all the stamping of feet, START was passed. Despite claims all of these bills were being rushed through, in reality all of them had been on the table for months, some years, but given the Republicans continued strategy to stop anything Obama has wanted to put forward, many bills have been caught in filibusters and committee after committee, and many other stalling procedures.

The passing of the extension of the Bush Tax Cuts showed a President who was worn out by the continued partisan politics, and he admitted that the November elections had been a “shellacking” for his party,  but yesterday Obama emerged with, well a confidence back.

Speaking to reporters he spoke of a “season of progress” with the passing of tax cuts, START, and DADT repeal being passed in what can only be called a rare but welcomed moment in bipartisan politics.  Yes I understand some of the Democrat Party base will believe that there were too many sacrifices – for example many wanted to see an end to the Bush Tax Cuts, and I agree – they will add $800 billion to the deficit and have yet to prove to be “job creation taxes”.

But as Rachel Maddow pointed out on her MSNBC show, President Obama has managed to achieve an 85%  accomplishment of his first term agenda, in just two years.

“By my estimation it is halftime, right, in the first term and with this vote tomorrow they will have gone 85% of the distance they said they wanted to go in the first term of the president.” (PoliticUSA)

Maddow goes on to highlight the other achievements President Obama has managed to do in his first term:

“The fair pay act for women, expanding children’s health insurance, new hate crimes legislation they said could not be done, tobacco regulation, credit card reform, student loan reform, the stimulus — which in addition to helping pull this country back from the brink of a great depression, was also the largest tax cut ever, the largest investment in clean energy ever, the largest investment in education in our country ever. There was also a little thing you may have heard of called health reform. Also, Wall Street reform, the improvements to the new G.I. Bill, the most expansive food SAFETY BILL SINCE THE 1930s. And tomorrow, President Obama will officially sign a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Of course as we are all aware there is more to be done, important things such as the closing of Gitmo, energy and immigration reform and much more, but still 85% in two years – come on, this is good.

Remember all this despite the obstructionism that the Republican party has been bent on. Obama’s achievements are historical and only to be matched by president’s such as FDR and Kennedy.  I understand very much that people still feel a lot has to be done or too much has been given away but this is a time to get behind the President.

Obama knows he has more to do, he may be jubilant to have passed a lot in a lame duck session most thought would be a write off, but he is not arrogant enough to forget that the country is still with a high unemployment rate and that the economy is still not out of the red so to speak.  He also knows legislation such as the DREAM act may have died in the vote at the moment but it is something he wants to work on.

As he said in his press conference yesterday:

“One thing I hope people have seen during this lame duck: I am persistent,” Obama said. “If I believe in something strongly, I stay on it.”

“I guarantee you, as soon as the new Congress is sworn in, we’re going to have to have a conversation about, how do we start balancing our budget or at least getting to a point that’s sustainable when it comes to our deficit and our debt?”

Of course the “Petulant” party are still having a hissy fit with Steve King claiming that Obama should not have been trying to pass through laws during the lame duck session.  Speaking to ABC he said it as “a pie in the face of the American people”, citing that November 2nd:

“People have been told by the American voters that they’ve had enough of the 111th Congress, they’d like to have shut it down on November the 2nd. And still Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi march on throwing another pie in the face of the American people — driving an agenda that’s not supported by the American people.”

What King may want to remember is until January, the Democrats are still in charge and after January they will still hold a majority in the Senate and of course the most important house of all – the White House.  Yes, Obama knows he was sent a message by the voters, he is not closed to this, unlike the Republicans who have not learnt a single thing since 2008. However most voters cited that it was because of the economy they voted against the Democrats.  And Obama is aware of this, and as I pointed out, he wants to address this.  Besides to Steve King, if his party had not spent two years holding everything up, then the Lame Duck session would not have been so full.

As The Salon points out about the Lame Duck Session:

Think of it this way: If you had said in the immediate wake of the November election — in which Democrats lost more than 60 House seats, nine Senate seats and a boatload of governorships and state legislatures — that by the end of the year, the START treaty would be ratified, DADT would be history, and $300 billion of new stimulus would be authorized by Congress (with Republican support), you probably would have been laughed at. But it will all soon be a reality…

Lame?  Not so much.

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