There are some very legitimate questions being asking right now, but the one that has me stunned is, how has the Senate managed to get so much done after an election cycle where the party in power received a shellacking? I guess we forgot that mache eventually dries.
First, there was the infamous tax cuts. When President Obama made a deal with the Republicans three things were said 1) Obama gave up again 2) Obama won the political battle and 3) the tax cuts amounted to another stimulus. The first argument was made by the left who were upset that the people who earned the most will have their taxes further reduced. That money could have been used to subsidize the cost from the Social Security cut that was also made in the deal.
Pundits believe Obama won the political battle because he appeased the middle. The tax cuts were not a left, or right issue. Opinion polls repeatedly showed that the vast majority of people wanted to see the cuts go through, and because it was an issue the White House pushed, Obama won.
Now, everyone knows what I think about the stimulus argument. The short answer is that they will help, for the short term (but barely), but a lot more could have been done.
What made the extensions even more surprising was that it didn't look like they would pass. The White House did not want to extend those cuts for the rich. But the Republicans insisted on it, and would not have voted for the bill otherwise. The area that put the victory in Obama's corner though was the deficit. After all the talk about reigning in government spending and the wind at their backs, the GOP did not insist on one policy that would reduce the deficit, in fact, they only insisted on increasing it.
More importantly, Obama owned the issue. Maybe it was because he gave Bill Clinton the mic. But in the past Obama has always been trying to explain and level with people on why he made his decision. This time, he blamed the Republicans of holding the middle class hostage in favor of the rich. All the democrats were saying this, every time, they went on television. And it worked.
I wasn't going to say anything, and you have to promise not to tell anyone, but another victory also came when the Don't Ask Don't Tell law was repealed. Those who have been pushing for the repeal were wondering what happened to the guy who said he would repeal the law. After all the challenges in the courts, those hard core Obama supporters were wondering why they had to do so much more work after the 2008 election. For the people on the left that were upset about the tax deal, this may have made up for it. Two years from now Obama can go straight to his base and say he got this done. Unlike the tax cuts, which may or may not help the economy, the repeal of don't ask don't tell is a substantial change that a lot of people wanted out of him.
Also now thanks to the Senate, we can eat meat without fear of mad cow disease. In a late night sessions the Food Safety and Modernization Act was passed. You would think after we had so many close calls with food imports the last couple of years this is something that would have been done. But this is the first time food safety regulations has been improved in almost one-hundred years.
One of the bigger items which looks like it will be passed this week is the START Treaty. A post Cold War agreement between the U.S. and Russia that every Secretary of State (Republican and Democrat), says needs to be passed, and Senator Kyle is holding it up. This was the wrong issue to try and score political points with. This treaty has always had bipartisan support and has reduced the number of nuclear weapons around the world. The situation has become so bad that Russia is weighing in on the Senate. This did not have to be a political victory for Obama, it will only become one because some members of the GOP were so outspoken against it.
One piece of legislation that did fail was the Dream Act. It is a shame because it made the process for immigrants to come into this country easier and they would have had less of an excuse to try and sneak in. It's also a way to reduce the deficit. The new immigrants coming in could have been taxed, and there were provisions making it easier for current illegal immigrants to get green cards. Now billions of dollars will be sent back to countries of immigrant families. Just more proof no one really cares about the deficit.
And it looks like the federal government will shut down this year! After the House passed a short extension for the start of the new year, Senator Reid announced the Senate will do the same. I'm OK with this, I loved the 90's.
What has helped get these pieces of legislation passed is the election being over. There is a full two years before the next election, and most public officials figure what they do now won't hurt them down the road. Especially if you are a Senator who only runs every six years. The rest of the time you are looking out for your state and helping your colleagues when you can.
Most of the legislation being passed this week was held up because the Republicans were filibustering it. When you hold up one piece of legislation it takes a longer time for others to come up and dealt with, especially in the Senate. But with a divided Congress next year it is hard to tell if compromises will be made.
It is a good sign that legislation is finally moving through. We just learned today that one of every seven Americans is now on food stamps. Needless to say, people need government to work. But as soon as the new year starts, the next election cycle will begin, making it important to pick battles carefully.