IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

For Biden and congressional Dems, 2021 is a glass half-full story

As observers take stock of 2021, it'd be a mistake to see the year as a failure for the White House and congressional Democrats.

After Congress returned to work after the Thanksgiving break, members faced a daunting to-do list filled with legislation they had to pass. Democrats largely succeeded, passing a spending bill to prevent a Republican-imposed government shutdown, raising the debt ceiling to prevent a Republican-imposed default crisis, and approving the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

To be sure, these were important measures that cleared Congress with less drama than some predicted. But as Roll Call noted, there were other priorities on the Democratic list that weren't finished.

President Joe Biden and Democratic leaders reluctantly acknowledged Thursday that the Senate would soon recess for the year without passing their sprawling $2.2 trillion social safety net and climate spending bill or voting rights legislation.... In punting action on the party's legislative priorities to 2022, Democrats are relinquishing the momentum of a calendar-driven deadline. No one could quite predict how long it would take to get the job done in the new year.

For weeks, Democratic leaders had a clear deadline in mind for the Build Back Better package: The goal was to pass the bill by Christmas. It was an ambitious goal that Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia rejected.

As that door started to close, several Democrats said there might be a chance to instead carve out an exception to the filibuster rules and pass voting rights protections. Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona helped make that impossible, too.

And so, Democratic senators will soon exit Capitol Hill for the year, and many will likely feel a little discouraged about the work undone. Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii said yesterday, for example, "A 50-50 Senate is really problematic. I've used the word 'sucks.' It definitely enables one or two people to hold things up. So, yes, I am frustrated."

That's understandable. This year could've been better, and it would've been were it not for a handful of members.

But as political observers take stock of the first year of Biden's presidency*, it'd be a mistake to see 2021 as a failure.

The American Rescue Plan was a breakthrough success, not just for Democrats, but for the country. It helped fund a robust vaccination program; it lifted millions of children out of poverty; and it helped create a robust economic recovery and millions of jobs.

The ARP was such a triumph that Republicans who tried to kill it now want credit for it.

Months later, the president signed an impressive infrastructure package — the kind of thing many in Congress wanted to pass for a decade, but didn't until this year.

Though the bills are often overlooked, it's also worth emphasizing that in 2021 Biden signed into law a worthwhile hate-crimes bill and created a new federal holiday honoring Juneteenth. The Senate has also had some success in confirming progressive judicial nominees.

The president finally withdrew U.S. troops from Afghanistan, too.

Yes, the Build Back Better package is the heart of the White House's domestic policy agenda. And yes, voting rights is a defining issue for the modern Democratic Party. If both fall short — and right now, the odds aren't great — it would be a dramatic setback and a missed opportunity for the ages.

But as Capitol Hill prepares to get quiet until the new year, those who argue that 2021 was a failure are overstating the case.

* Clarification: It's not entirely fair to make an assessment of Biden's first year since he hasn't quite been in office for 11 months. That said, we're all mindful of calendars, and 2021 is obviously nearing its end.