As Congress’ post-election, lame-duck session gets underway today, it’s worth reflecting on what’s possible in a brief period of time.
As Rachel noted on the show last night, nearly four years ago at this time, there was a great exchange between Jake Tapper, ABC’s White House correspondent at the time, and then-Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, about expectations for the 2010 lame-duck:
TAPPER: So just to put a period on this, the president thinks that funding the government, passing unemployment-insurance extensions “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, the DREAM Act, tax cuts and START all can be done?GIBBS: Yes.TAPPER: In the next 18 days?GIBBS: Yes.TAPPER: Good luck.GIBBS: Yes. Well, thank you. (Laughter.) Yeah, you’ll have a lot to cover.
In Tapper’s defense, the session turned out to be a little longer than 18 days, and the vote on the Dream Act came up short in the face of an unyielding Republican filibuster.
But in that lame-duck session, Congress, led by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, repealed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, ratified the New START treaty, passed a middle-class tax-cut extension, extended unemployment benefits (back when Republicans considered that worthwhile), approved a bill providing health coverage for 9/11 first responders, they passed most sweeping food-safety bill in 70 years, confirmed some judicial nominees, and passed the defense authorization bill.
Every one of these bills passed Congress during the 2010 lame-duck session. And here’s the kicker:
Congress hasn’t passed a major piece of legislation since. It seems crazy, but more important legislation cleared Capitol Hill in the few weeks after the 2010 midterms than in the ensuing four years.
Look at that list again: DADT, New START, tax breaks, jobs aid, 9/11 healthcare, food safety, NDAA. If a Republican Congress passed this many major new laws in a year, we’d be impressed. If a Republican Congress took two years, we’d probably say, “That’s not much, but at least they’re accomplishing something.”
But when Dems ran Capitol Hill, they managed to get meaningful laws passed – quickly. It’s disheartening to recognize, but the legislative successes of the 2010 lame-duck session were the last instances of Congress approving major legislation. There have been no real congressional accomplishments since and congressional productivity has dropped to levels unseen in generations.
Making matters slightly worse, despite the nation’s many challenges, it may be a while before Congress legislates again as effectively as it did four years ago at this time.
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