By Ed Forry
The gridlock that seems to have enveloped Washington D.C. in the two years since Barack Obama was elected has come to define the country in this first decade of the 21st century.
Such ephemeral nonsense as demands for the president’s birth certificate, hidden holds by anonymous senators on presidential nominees, and John McCain’s colossal flip/flop on undocumented immigrants are in themselves enough to cause a person to lose faith in the legislative process.
The pundits on the right are already writing the president’s political epitaph, gleeful as they are over the power changes in Congress. Indeed they are all sure that things will go their way, with the GOP claiming that “the American people” have spoken.
But such simplistic analysis ignores the evidence of history: Presidential parties typically lose ground in mid-term elections. It was the case with Bill Clinton, also with Ronald Reagan. The truth is, there really is no unilateral “voice of the American people”; rather there is a steadily shifting center of political gravity that swings, pendulum-like, across the vast middle ground between the political right and left.
And even as the chattering class predicted nothing would be accomplished in the “lame duck” nine weeks between the Nov 2 election and January’s new Congress, the reality was quite different, as the Democrats rallied around the White House to pass one after another significant change into law.
The Republicans, content to foster a near-unanimous inertia (“ The Party of No!)” these past 24 months, must struggle with the reality that, now a majority in the House, they have to learn to govern. And these next 24 months will enable the Democrats to regroup, re-charge and, in a Palin-esque word, re-load.
Boston’s John Cullinane feels confident that his party will have some success in the coming years. He explains: “Recently, I met with the Democratic House Leadership regarding their plans to win back the House in 2012. I came away quite optimistic that they can do it.
“One reason is that the leadership has put together an outstanding team which is open to new ideas. Second, as Congressman Ed Markey said, the spotlight will be on the House Republicans and Tea Party members over the next two years and that's going to help because people may say they don't like government but they sure like what government does for them.
“Third, the 111th Congress had an outstanding record of accomplishment despite the fact that the Republicans took a walk at a time of great national crisis in order to play political games with America's future.”
Cullinane says that Democratic supporters must learn how to claim credit for their legislative accomplishments, and there have been many of them in the last two years.
“It's really very impressive in terms of the number of bills that were signed into law, despite all the Republican opposition,” he says. “As such, it's a perfect ‘get out the message’ piece, and we can't start soon enough. The key is broadcasting it to all your friends and acquaintances with your personal take on things. This will be very effective if followed with other pieces over the next two years, on a regular basis. If we do, by 2012 America will recognize it made a big mistake when it gave control of the House to the Republicans.”
Columbia University historian Alan Brinkley called the 111th “probably the most productive session of Congress since at least the ‘60s." Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute says, "The 111th Congress is going to go down as one of the most productive in terms of its legislative accomplishments, their sweep and scope and breadth, certainly in our lifetimes, and probably within the 20th century."
Simply put, writes Cullinane, the Democratic message is this:
“In the 111th Congress, Democrats worked to move America forward, create jobs, and end the Bush recession – the worst economy in 60 years. We have fought for Americans who work for a living—in the face of relentless opposition by Wall Street, Big Oil, and the health insurance industry, led in Congress by Republicans. Despite GOP opposition, we produced landmark achievements for the middle class in job creation, small business tax cuts, health care, Wall Street reform, veterans’ health care, and child nutrition. We are proud of our record.”
The Democratic Congressional Record- 2009-2010
ECONOMIC RECOVERY AND CREATING JOBS
AMERICAN RECOVERY & REINVESTMENT ACT, enacted in the first month of President Obama’s term, to jumpstart our economy, create and save 3.5 million jobs, give a tax cut to small business and 95% of American workers, begin to rebuild America’s road, rail, and water infrastructure, and make a historic commitment to education, clean energy, and science and technology, with unprecedented accountability. (Signed into Law)
DEMOCRATIC PRIORITIES IN TAX RELIEF & UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE ACT, a controversial Obama-GOP agreement that includes the following Democratic priorities to create jobs and promote recovery: cutting taxes for the middle class and small businesses for the next 2 years; providing a $120 billion payroll tax reduction for workers; extending unemployment insurance for 13 months; extending the Obama college tuition tax credit, Child Tax Credit, and Earned Income Tax Credit for two years; and providing incentives to create clean energy jobs. (Signed into Law)
SMALL BUSINESS JOBS ACT, landmark legislation providing $12 billion in tax relief for small businesses by enacting 8 more small business tax cuts on top of the 8 already enacted by this Congress; creating up to 500,000 jobs, by leveraging up to $300 billion in private sector lending for small businesses through a $30 billion lending fund for community banks; fully paid for – doesn’t add a dime to the deficit. (Signed into Law)
TEACHER JOBS/STATE AID/CLOSING TAX LOOPHOLES, creating and saving nearly 320,000 jobs; providing $10 billion to save 161,000 teacher jobs and $16 billion in Medicaid aid, with the effect of creating/saving 158,000 jobs, including police officers, firefighters, nurses & private sector workers; fully paid for by closing loopholes that encourage companies to ship American jobs overseas; cutting deficit by $1.4 billion. (Signed into Law)
STUDENT AID & FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY ACT, making the largest investment in college aid in history – increasing Pell Grants, making college loans more affordable, and strengthening community colleges – while reducing the federal deficit by ending wasteful student loan subsidies to banks. (Signed into Law)
HIRE ACT, creating up to 300,000 jobs, by providing a payroll tax holiday for businesses that hire unemployed workers and a tax credit for businesses that retain these workers. (Signed into Law)
CASH FOR CLUNKERS, jump-starting the U.S. auto industry, providing consumers with up to $4,500 to trade in an old vehicle for one with higher fuel efficiency—spurring the sale of 700,000 vehicles. (Signed into Law)
WORKER, HOMEOWNERSHIP & BUSINESS ASSISTANCE ACT, boosting the economy and creating jobs with more unemployment benefits for Americans hit by the recession, an expanded 1st-time homebuyer tax credit, and enhanced small business tax relief—expanded to all struggling U.S. businesses. (Signed into Law)
AMERICA COMPETES REAUTHORIZATION, keeping America number one by investing in modernizing manufacturing, spurring American innovation through basic R&D and high risk/high reward clean energy research, and strengthening math and science education. (On Way to President’s Desk)
U.S. MANUFACTURING ENHANCEMENT ACT, to help U.S. manufacturers compete at home and abroad by temporarily suspending or reducing duties on intermediate products or materials these companies use that are not made domestically. (Signed into Law)
KEEPING UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE IN PLACE, extending unemployment insurance for millions of American families through November 30, 2010 (Signed into Law), and through December 31, 2011 (Signed into Law). Every dollar of unemployment benefits creates about $2.00 in economic activity. DREAM ACT, boosting our economy and military readiness with limited, targeted legislation – giving the best and brightest of immigrant children who came to the U.S. undocumented and grew up here a chance to contribute to our country by pursuing higher education or serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, with the ability to earn legal status after a rigorous and lengthy process of at least 10 years. (Passed by House)
CURRENCY REFORM/FAIR TRADE, to promote U.S. manufacturing jobs, by giving our government effective tools to address the unfair trade practice of currency manipulation by foreign countries, including China; their undervalued currency makes Chinese exports cheaper and America’s exports to China more expensive, putting U.S. manufacturers at an unfair disadvantage; bill is WTO-compliant. (Passed by House)
AMERICAN JOBS AND CLOSING TAX LOOPHOLES ACT, to promote American jobs by restoring credit to small businesses, extending tax incentives for American R&D and tax relief for middle class American families, rebuilding American infrastructure, and expanding jobs for young people; and to close tax loopholes to make Wall Street billionaires pay their fair share of taxes. (Passed by House)
HOME STAR JOBS, to create 168,000 American jobs making energy efficiency products, by providing incentives for consumers to make their homes energy-efficient -- cutting energy bills for 3 million families and reducing our dangerous dependence on foreign oil and dirty fuels. (Passed by House)
RURAL STAR/HOME STAR LOANS, to create tens of thousands more U.S. jobs, by creating Rural Star loans for people in rural America to make their homes and farms more energy-efficient; and a Home Star Loan Program for no-interest loans for energy efficiency home upgrades in other areas. (Passed by House)
SMALL BUSINESS & INFRASTRUCTURE JOBS ACT, to extend Build America Bonds to help finance the rebuilding of schools, hospitals, roads and bridges; and target tax incentives to spur investment in small businesses and help entrepreneurs looking to start a new business. (Passed by House)
EDWARD M. KENNEDY SERVE AMERICA ACT, tripling volunteerism opportunities to 250,000 for national service for students to retirees; increased college financial awards. (Signed into Law)
PROTECTING CONSUMERS WALL STREET REFORM, historic reforms to end taxpayer-funded bailouts and the idea of ‘too big to fail’, and protect and empower consumers to make the best decisions on mortgages, credit cards, and their own financial future. Lack of accountability for Wall Street and big banks cost 8 million jobs. (Signed into Law)
CREDIT CARDHOLDERS’ BILL OF RIGHTS, providing tough new protections already saving consumers money—like banning unfair rate hikes, abusive fees, and penalties—and strengthening enforcement. (Signed into Law)
FOOD SAFETY, a sweeping, landmark overhaul of the nation’s food safety system in the wake of tainted food scandals; giving FDA new authorities and putting a new focus on prevention. (On Way to President’s Desk)
FRAUD ENFORCEMENT & RECOVERY ACT, providing tools to prosecute mortgage scams and corporate fraud that contributed to financial crisis; creating an outside commission to examine its causes. (Signed into Law)
LILLY LEDBETTER FAIR PAY ACT, restoring the rights of women and other workers to challenge unfair pay—to help close the wage gap where women earn 78 cents for every $1 a man earns in America. (Signed into Law)
AIRLINE PASSENGER SAFETY, to improve airline passenger safety, by several steps including strengthening commercial pilot training requirements, requiring a minimum of 1,500 flight hours required for an airline pilot certificate. (Signed into Law)
HELPING HOMEOWNERS HELPING FAMILIES SAVE THEIR HOMES ACT, building on the President’s initiative to stem the foreclosure crisis, with significant incentives to lenders, servicers, and homeowners to modify loans. (Signed into Law)
FHA REFORM, to shore up federal mortgage insurance in order to expand homeownership opportunities by making essential reforms to strengthen the financial footing of the Federal Housing Administration, saving taxpayers $2.5 billion over 5 years. (Passed by House)
FLOOD INSURANCE REAUTHORIZATION & REFORM, reauthorizing the National Flood Insurance Program, upon which millions of American families and businesses rely, for five years and making key reforms to put the program on a stronger financial footing. (Passed by House)
AFFORDABLE QUALITY HEALTH CARE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT, landmark legislation prohibiting insurance companies from discriminating against Americans with pre-existing conditions and dropping coverage when you get sick and need it most; lowering costs for privately-insured middle class families and small businesses; strengthening Medicare and lowering seniors’ prescription drug costs; creating up to 4 million jobs; and reducing the deficit by the largest amount in almost two decades, while ensuring affordable coverage for 32 million more Americans. (Signed into Law)
CHILD NUTRITION, landmark legislation to fight both childhood obesity and childhood hunger; improving the nutritional quality of school lunches, expanding access for needy children to nutrition programs, and providing schools with first boost in reimbursement rate for school lunches in more than 30 years. (Signed into Law)
HEALTH CARE FOR 11 MILLION CHILDREN, to finally provide cost-effective health coverage for 4 million more children and preserve coverage for 7 million children already enrolled. (Signed into Law)
FDA REGULATION OF TOBACCO, granting the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate advertising, marketing, and manufacturing of tobacco products, the #1 cause of preventable U.S. deaths, and to stop tobacco companies from targeting our children. (Signed into Law)
ENSURING SENIORS’ ACCESS TO THEIR DOCTORS, by blocking a scheduled 25% cut in Medicare physician payments and extending current Medicare payment rates through December 31, 2011. (Signed into Law)
9/11 HEALTH AND COMPENSATION ACT, providing health care and compensation for first responders and others exposed to the toxins of Ground Zero. (On Way to President’s Desk)
RYAN WHITE HIV/AIDS TREATMENT EXTENSION ACT, guaranteeing access to lifesaving medical services, primary care, and medications for low-income patients with AIDS and HIV. (Signed into Law)
CLEAN ENERGY JOBS & HOLDING BP ACCOUNTABLE AMERICAN CLEAN ENERGY AND SECURITY ACT, historic legislation to create 1.7 million jobs (with the Recovery Act); help free us from funding terrorism with our dependence on foreign oil; reduce the carbon pollution causing climate change; keep costs low for Americans; will not increase the deficit. (Passed by House)
INCENTIVES FOR CLEAN ENERGY JOBS, to extend for one year the Section 1603 renewable energy grant program, which provides grants in lieu of existing tax credits, that could create up to 100,000 jobs in the solar and wind industries. (Signed into Law)
RESPONSE TO BP OIL SPILL, a bill providing a comprehensive response to BP oil spill – eliminating the $75 million cap on the liability of oil companies, restoring the Gulf Coast and protecting local residents, imposing new safety requirements and strengthening oversight of offshore drilling, and protecting whistleblowers in offshore drilling industry who report safety violations. (Passed by House)
SPILL ACT, to reform maritime liability laws to ensure that the families of those killed or injured in the BP Oil Spill and other such tragedies are justly compensated for their losses. (Passed by House)
FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY & GOVERNMENT REFORM STATUTORY PAY-AS-YOU-GO, to restore 1990s law that turned record deficits into surpluses, by forcing tough choices; Congress must offset new policies that reduce revenues or expand entitlements. (Signed into Law)
BUDGET BLUEPRINT, creating jobs with investments in health care, clean energy and education; cutting taxes for most Americans by $1.5 trillion; cutting Bush deficit by more than half by 2013. (Action Completed)
BUDGET ENFORCEMENT RESOLUTION, setting a limit on discretionary spending for FY 2011 that requires spending cuts of $7 billion below the President’s budget and $3 billion below Senate. (Action Completed)
JUSTICE FOR BLACK FARMERS AND NATIVE AMERICANS, funding lawsuit settlements regarding discrimination against black farmers and Native American trust account holders by the government. (Signed into Law)
WEAPON SYSTEMS ACQUISITION REFORM, cracking down on DOD waste and cost overruns in the acquisition of weapon systems, increasing oversight and competition. (Signed into Law)
IMPROVE ACQUISITION ACT, overhauling DOD acquisition for the 80 percent of spending that is for services and other non-weapons items, saving taxpayers an estimated $135 billion. (On Way to President’s Desk)
DISCLOSE ACT, to fight a corporate takeover of our elections, requires them to disclose they are behind political ads; bans foreign-controlled corporations from putting money in U.S. elections. (Passed by House)
NATIONAL SECURITY/TROOPS AND VETERANS FY 2010 DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION, authorizing 3.4% troop pay raise, strengthening military readiness and military families support, focusing our strategy in Afghanistan and redeployment from Iraq. (Signed into Law)
FY 2011 DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION, strengthening support for service members, military readiness, and counterterrorism efforts, including troop pay raise. (On Way to President’s Desk)
REPEAL OF DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL, to provide for the repeal of this outdated policy, contingent on the certification that military review completed and repeal will not impact readiness. (Signed into Law)
VETERANS HEALTH CARE BUDGET REFORM ACT, authorizing Congress to approve VA appropriations one year in advance to ensure reliable and timely funding of VA health care funding. (Signed into Law)
FY 2010 MILITARY CONSTRUCTION-VA APPROPRIATIONS, strengthening quality health care for 5 million veterans by investing 11% more for medical care and benefits. (Signed into Law)
FY 2009 SUPPLEMENTAL, making retroactive stop loss payments to 185,000+ service members, and expanding New GI Bill benefits for college to all children of fallen U.S. service members. (Signed into Law)
CAREGIVERS AND VETERANS OMNIBUS HEALTH SERVICES, landmark legislation providing help to caregivers of disabled, ill or injured veterans, and improving VA health services for women veterans. (Signed into Law)
AGENT ORANGE BENEFITS, providing long overdue disability benefits to more than 150,000 Vietnam veterans and survivors for exposure to Agent Orange. (Signed into Law)
STRENGTHENING NEW GI BILL, making these veterans’ education benefits for college easier to use; covering vocational, technical and on-the-job training, as well as more National Guardsmen. (Signed into Law)
SECURITY FOR AMERICA’S COMMUNITIES FY 2010 HOMELAND SECURITY APPROPRIATIONS, strengthening security at our ports and borders and on commercial airlines, giving first responders tools to respond to terrorism. (Signed into Law)
HATE CRIMES PREVENTION ACT, giving law enforcement resources to prevent and prosecute hate crimes against Americans based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. (Signed into Law)
BORDER SECURITY EMERGENCY APPROPRIATIONS, providing $600 million to enhance security at the Southwest Border, including funding 1,200 additional Border Patrol agents, 500 additional CBP officers, and additional FBI, DEA, and ATF agents for the border region; paid for by visa fees. (Signed into Law)
COPS ON THE BEAT, putting an additional 50,000 cops on the street over the next 5 years. (Passed by House)
CHEMICAL & WATER SECURITY ACT, to increase security and safety of the nation’s chemical plants and water facilities vulnerable to terrorist attacks and the millions of Americans that live nearby. (Passed by House