The Do-Lots Congress

By Klein, Ezra | Newsweek, November 15, 2010 | Go to article overview

The Do-Lots Congress


Klein, Ezra, Newsweek


Byline: Ezra Klein

Guess what--it accomplished big things.

The votes are (mostly) counted. The Republicans have clearly and decisively won. But did the Democrats actually lose?

They lost the election, certainly. And many of them lost their jobs. But the point of legislating isn't job security. It's legislation. And on that count the members of the 111th Congress succeeded wildly, even historically.

There was health-care reform, of course. The bill is projected to cover 32 million Americans while cutting the deficit by about $140 billion in the first 10 years--and by hundreds of billions more after that. It creates competitive insurance markets in every state and makes it illegal for insurers to turn you away or jack up your premiums because you have a preexisting condition. It empowers an independent commission to cut Medicare's costs and ratchets back the tax break for employer-sponsored health-care insurance that's been at the root of many of our system's dysfunctions. It begins paying doctors for quality rather than volume. Even Mark McClellan, who directed the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services under George W. Bush, says the bill is "an important step."

Oh, and next year, chain restaurants will be posting calorie and nutritional information on their menus and drive-through windows. That was the health-care bill, too.

Then there was financial regulation. If you were looking for a bill that reformed the financial-services sector, as I was, Dodd-Frank probably didn't go as far as you hoped. But it created a system that now includes a regulator for the consumer-financial products that inflated the bubble, a systemic-risk regulator able to watch the institutions that turned the bubble into a crisis, and new powers that can be used to take down the firms that pose a threat to the system without resorting to bailouts. And there were even some industry reforms that people like me wanted, notably the effort to make the derivatives market transparent.

We can't forget the stimulus, of course. Too small? Absolutely. Were there votes to make it much bigger? Probably not. And even putting aside the economic relief that the expansions of Medicaid, COBRA, food stamps, tax cuts, and unemployment benefits gave to hundreds of millions of Americans, or the millions of jobs the Congressional Budget Office estimates the legislation created or saved, there were the investments designed to pay dividends down the road. …

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