Thursday, December 23, 2010


Critique and analysis are coming in on the "Lame Duck" session of the 111th Congress and the consensus seems to be saying is that it was anything but lame.  Whether it be a campaign promise kept to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", or the deal with the devil that was struck between the President and Senate Republican Leadership to extend the Bush Era Tax Cuts for everyone (including the wealthy) while also getting an extension of Unemployment Benefits and a few others Democrats wanted, the winners of the final round of the 111th Congress are the Democrats and President Obama

If Republicans are wondering what the heck just happened, Ezra Kline's column in the Washington Post sums it up best with a quote from Senator Lindsey Graham (R) SC, saying that "When its all going to be said done, Harry Reid has eaten our lunch."  Included in this assessment was a major Foreign Policy victory for President Obama with the passage of the new START Treaty. 

If you are feeling a little perplexed, a little in aw of this political mastery, and wondering how the ingredients came together for the President and the Democrats, the always pragmatic and wise David Gergen offers his assessment of the situation by stating,
"What happened?  One answer, I would submit, is that the president and his team found a better approach to governing:  Instead of relying on the Democratic Caucus in each chamber to deliver, they built up coalitions of their own that swayed public opinion in their direction and gave the leverage in Congress." 
So how did these coalitions get cobbled together?  It wasn't just the two moderate Republican Senators from Maine (Olympia Snow and Susan Collins), or Scott Brown from Massachusetts.  It was other, more conservative Republicans, that came together with the President and the Democrats on the way out. 

Retiring Ohio Senator, George Voinovich, the now independent (dare we say Rogue) Senator from Alaska, Lisa Murkowski, newly minted Senator from Illinois, Mark Kirk, and then we have the ethically challenge John Ensign of Nevada, Richard Burr of North Carolina, ranking Republican on Senate Foreign Relations, Richard Lugar and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who is in the Republican Leadership.  Of note, Lisa Murkowski voted with the President and Democrats on DATA repeal, START, the compromise on extension of tax cuts and unemployment benefits, and of all things voting with Democrats to end debate on the Dream Act. 

Then there's the Food Safety Bill, the DoD reauthorization, and a few others, that if it were not for Republican support, would have died on the vine.  So then, why did all this pressing legislation that was so important, finally get passed?  There are several thoughts on that.  One being from Ezra Kline, where he observes: 
"The answer, I think, is that there are plenty of Senate Republicans who aren't too comfortable with the class of conservatives who got elected in 2010. These legislators knew they had to stick with McConnell before the election, as you can't win back the majority by handing the president lots of legislative accomplishments. But now that the election was over, the bills that had piled up were, in many cases, good bills, and if they didn't pass now, it wasn't clear that they'd be able to pass later. 

The incumbent -- and the outgoing -- Republicans know that the fact that Republicans will have more power in 2011 doesn't necessarily mean that they'll use that power to pass sensible legislation. So those of them who wanted to pass sensible legislation decided to get it all done now, even if that meant handing Reid and Obama a slew of apparent victories in the lame-duck session." 
For me, its a combination of several factors with a big part of it in line with what Ezra Kline states above.  The opinion polls since the November elections have been loud and clear that voters are tired of the hyper-partisanship and want things to get done.  Congress responded.  Also, it seems that there is a realization from establishment Republicans that the new crop coming in, of which 70-80% of them have never held public office before, are going to be a political nightmare and a major liability if they can't harness the energy in a strategic direction.  Just like Democrats misread the results of 2008, this new group of Republicans seem to be over-reaching and reading too much into the results and projecting a mandate that just isn't there. 

Did the President and Democrats run the table?  Not even close.  They fell short on the omnibus spending bill, Dream Act, and they were unable to exclude the wealthy from the Bush Era Tax Cut extension.  But coming off the "shellacking" of the November 2nd debacle, this was nothing short of clutch, a Masterstroke! 

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