Six Big Achievements of a Surprisingly 'Do Something' Congress

Article excerpt

The outgoing 111th Congress is among the most productive in history, in spite of its reputation for gridlock and 13 percent approval rating. Democrats controlled the House and the Senate, and used their large majorities to push through landmark legislation with barely any GOP support. The post-election lame-duck session - typically a mopping-up operation to get out of town - also made history, passing key pieces of legislation, often with greater input from Republicans than had earlier been the case. People can argue the merits of what Congress did, but it's hard to quibble with the scope of the undertaking. Here are six of this Congress's major accomplishments, in the order in which they were approved.

The outgoing 111th Congress is among the most productive in history, in spite of its reputation for gridlock and 13 percent approval rating. Democrats controlled the House and the Senate, and used their large majorities to push through landmark legislation with barely any GOP support. The post-election lame-duck session - typically a mopping-up operation to get out of town - also made history, passing key pieces of legislation, often with greater input from Republicans than had earlier been the case. People can argue the merits of what Congress did, but it's hard to quibble with the scope of the undertaking. Here are six of this Congress's major accomplishments, in the order in which they were approved.

#6 American Recovery & Reinvestment Act

The $819 billion economic stimulus package, signed into law February 2009 less than a month after Barack Obama became president, is the largest stand-alone spending bill in US history. It included tax cuts, as well as new spending for public works, education, clean energy, technology, and health care. House Republicans united to oppose the bill, which they dubbed a job killer because it added to an unsustainable national deficit. Three centrist Republicans joined Democrats to break a filibuster in the Senate. The stimulus bill would become campaign grist for tea party opponents, who said it focused on saving public-sector jobs, rather than stimulating private-sector job creation, and did not "create or save" 3.5 million jobs in two years, as the White House had promised.

#5 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

Congress battled for a year to pass health-care reform, which was finally a done deal March 23, 2010. The law mandates that all Americans obtain health insurance coverage, and it sets up entities called health exchanges to provide people with affordable options. The law gives insurance companies a guaranteed pool of clients across all age brackets - including healthy young people, many of whom currently go without insurance. In exchange, insurance companies must end discrimination based on preexisting health conditions, lifetime caps on coverage, arbitrary termination of coverage, and other practices Congress deemed abusive. Democrats claimed the bill would cut deficits and create jobs. The House version passed with no votes from Republicans, who disliked mandates on small businesses to provide coverage to employees. The election in January of Republican Sen. Scott Brown to replace the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts meant Democrats no longer had the 60 votes needed to block a filibuster. In the end, Speaker Nancy Pelosi persuaded House Democrats to adopt the Senate version of the bill, unacceptable to many, and then approve "fixes" under a budget procedure that eliminated the possibility of a Senate filibuster. Many Republicans campaigned in the 2010 midterms to defund and replace health-care reform. The bill that funds government operations through the first part of 2011, passed this week, does not include $1 billion in funding for health-care reform or startup costs for health-care reform that Democrats had sought. House Republicans promise further cuts in the new Congress, when they will have the majority. …