For Obama, ‘lame duck’ Congress ends on high note

It may have ended in a lame-duck session with Democrats set to lose their majority in January, but the first US Congress of the Obama era was among the most prolific in 40 years, overcoming intense partisan bickering to pass major legislation.

The accomplishments were anything but lame in the post-election period, according to analysts and even some of President Barack Obama’s Republican adversaries who begrudged him key victories in late 2010, including a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia and repeal of a ban on openly gay troops.

Having described his Democrats’s drubbing at the ballot box in November as a “shellacking”, the president headed to a Hawaii vacation this week on a high, savouring the latest in a litany of legislative victories that marked his first two years in office.

“The 111th Congress is one of the most productive Congresses in American history, certainly since Lyndon Johnson’s ‘Great Society’ and the programmes that were passed in the mid-1960s,” Stephen Hess, an expert on American politics at the Brookings Institution think-tank in Washington, told Agence France-Presse.

“History will tell over time the value of what [Congress has done] but in terms of sheer production it is really an exceptional record.”

Economic crisis
It began in January 2009, when a fresh president put forward a comprehensive plan to revive a US economy hit by the worst crisis since the 1930s. One month later, politicians passed a massive $814-billion stimulus package.

Then in early 2010, after months of negotiations with an entrenched Republican opposition, Congress adopted health insurance reform. Shortly after, a major reform of financial regulation was adopted to counter a Wall Street meltdown.

But Hess said equating the “Great Society” to the Bills of the 111th Congress was like “comparing apples to oranges”. The legislature under Johnson (1963-1969) created the Medicare health insurance programme for the elderly and Medicaid (for the poor), and passed momentous civil rights laws ending racial segregation.

For John Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College, the first Obama Congress was “perhaps not quite at the same level [as Johnson’s] but certainly in the same category in terms of sheer productivity.

But his congressional conquests have stuttered, when unemployment rose past the 10% mark and the upstart ultra-conservative Tea Party movement galvanised American voters frustrated over the economy and Washington.


That carried over into mounting disaffection for Obama, whose party suffered a thrashing at the mid-term elections on November 2.

And yet despite that defeat, the Democrats, who in January pass control of the House to Republicans while keeping a diminished majority in the Senate, rallied in the eight-week lame duck session that marks the period before a shift in congressional power.

Within a few weeks, Congress managed to extend temporary Bush-era tax cuts, end the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rule to allow gay people to serve openly in the military for the first time and, on the final day of the session, ratify the new Start nuclear disarmament treaty with Russia.

Obama was beaming on Wednesday, highlighting his own persistence — “If I believe in something strongly, I stay on it” — and the bipartisan compromise that allowed the laws to squeeze through.

“I think it’s fair to say that this has been the most productive post-election period we’ve had in decades,” Obama said.

Impressed
Even some political adversaries were impressed. Senator Lindsey Graham said his fellow Republicans “capitulated” to Democratic pressure, but in the end the lawmaker took his hat off to Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

“When people say President Obama had a great two weeks, they’re absolutely right,” Graham told Fox News Radio. “Even though I don’t like what happened, I do give them credit.”

In 2011, the Republicans in the 112th Congress will be looking to blunt some of the Democratic progress, and they’ll start by wielding a sharp budget axe.

Obsessed with controlling runaway expenditures, Republicans have vowed to conduct intense administrative oversight, and slash $100-billion from the next budget. — AFP

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Emmanuel Parisse
Emmanuel Parisse
Directeur du bureau #AFP du Caire. Ex Washington, Kaboul, Metz, Rennes, Paris.
Advertising

Coalition politics and law: The fight over Tshwane

With coalition politics on the rise, particularly in local government, this kind of court case is likely to become more common

High court declares Dudu Myeni delinquent

Disgraced former SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni has been declared a delinquent director by the...

SANDF inquiry clears soldiers of the death of Collins Khosa

The board of inquiry also found that it was Khosa and his brother-in-law Thabiso Muvhango who caused the altercation with the defence force members

No back to school for teachers just yet

Last week the basic education minister was adamant that teachers will return to school on May 25, but some provinces say not all Covid-19 measures are in place to prevent its spread
Advertising

Press Releases

Openview, now powered by two million homes

The future of free-to-air satellite TV is celebrating having two million viewers by giving away two homes worth R2-million

Road to recovery for the tourism sector: The South African perspective

The best-case scenario is that South Africa's tourism sector’s recovery will only begin in earnest towards the end of this year

What Africa can learn from Cuba in combating the Covid-19 pandemic

Africa should abandon the neoliberal path to be able to deal with Covid-19 and other health system challenges likely to emerge in future

Coexisting with Covid-19: Saving lives and the economy in India

A staggered exit from the lockdown accompanied by stepped-up testing to cover every district is necessary for India right now

Covid-19: Eased lockdown and rule of law Webinar

If you are arrested and fined in lockdown, you do get a criminal record if you pay the admission of guilt fine

Covid-19 and Frontline Workers

Who is caring for the healthcare workers? 'Working together is how we are going to get through this. It’s not just a marathon, it’s a relay'.

PPS webinar Part 2: Small business, big risk

The risks that businesses face and how they can be dealt with are something all business owners should be well acquainted with

Call for applications for the position of GCRO executive director

The Gauteng City-Region Observatory is seeking to appoint a high-calibre researcher and manager to be the executive director and to lead it

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday