It has indeed been a very full year. As I think about all that has transpired, I am overwhelmed by the speed at which political events seemingly turned on a dime. After the disastrous Bush economic policies steered the country very nearly into another Great Depression, the richest 1% of the country got an extension of their Bush-era tax cuts. This happened even after the President who campaigned all through 2007 and 2008 on a platform of promising to end those cuts was elected two years before. In January, 2009, it looked like the Republican Party was on the way out. It had seemingly lost all relevance and was only representative of the rich, some business owners, and that was that. But lo and behold, they resurrected themselves, at least temporarily, by manufacturing the astroturf Tea Party. By allying themselves with libertarians and other ultra-conservative fringe groups, they hijacked the tax issue by lying and scaring the public into thinking that EVERYBODY'S taxes would be raised if the top-tiered's taxes were raised. Consequently, they won back the House of Representatives and came within a whisker of taking the Senate as well. For a time, it looked like the President's agenda was dead. But as I look over this past year, in spite of those events, I realize that the 111th Congress was incredibly effective and passed a gigantic amount of far-reaching legislation. In spite of constant Republican Senate obstruction, it, with varying degrees of Presidential help, enacted the most legislation in many, many decades. Let's look at some of what has been accomplished:
Health Care Reform
I was not initially too happy with the failure of the President to push for and get a single-payer option for health care. And, while not completely universal in coverage, the plan he passed DOES extend coverage to 32 million more Americans while actually REDUCING the deficit by $1.3 billion over the next 20 years. It also makes it illegal for the health insurance industry to discriminate against people by denying them coverage. That in and of itself is a big accomplishment. It makes health care coverage a basic right for all Americans. The plan is still flawed in many other respects, but it is a starting point that can and will eventually be improved upon.
Successful Economic Stimulus
When Barack Obama began his Presidency, our economy was heading straight down the tubes due to the distrous policies of George W. Bush. The previous summer gasoline rose to over $4.00 per gallon due to reckless speculation. Obama signed the stimulus into law and it has helped to stem the job losses. and most economists say that over one million jobs have been either saved or added due to it.
The Repeal of DADT
I am still amazed at this. It appeared that the utterly ridiculous "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy regarding gays in the military was dead in the water. But somehow, at the very end of this year's session, Congress overwhelmingly repealed this discriminatory policy and the President signed its repeal into law.
Supreme Court Vacancies filled
In spite of token Republican opposition, two new Supreme Court Justices were confirmed by the Senate. One became the very first Hispanic on the court, and both were women.
Credit Card Reform
The credit card reform bill that Obama signed in May of 2009 has helped to provide new protections for customers. It prevents credit card companies from raising interest rates on existing balances and restricts how much credit card companies can charge in penalty fees.
More Successful in Anti-Terrorism Than Bush
Early in the year, Liz Cheney and her father DICK both tag-teamed on President Obama, saying that our anti-terrorism efforts were weak and uncoordinated and put the country in danger. This turned out to be a bunch of deliberate Republican anti-Obama poppycock, as the President launched more attacks on terrorists in his first two years than did Bush in the last four years of his Presidency combined, with a much higher net yield, too.
START Treaty ratified
Adter a load of needless Republican grandstanding at the very end of the congressional term, the START Treaty with Russia was ratified by the Senate. It will provide for much-needed supervision over the status of Russia's nuclear arsenal.
Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act
Congress overturned a Supreme Court decision which had limited a female's right to sue over unfair pay discrimination. This should go a long way toward balancing out the difference in male vs. female pay rates, and its enactment was way overdue.
Wall Street reform
Just as in the case of health care, this bill was watered down and goes nowhere near far enough in actually regulating sordid Wall Street practices, but it is a starting point for future congresses to build on.
Student Loan Reform
Instead of private banks issuing loans guaranteed by the government, the government itself will now become the originator of the loan. It will essentially eliminate the banks as a middleman and allow students a more streamlined and easier process for getting loans.
Health Benefits for 9/11 responders
Congress also passed a much-needed law giving aid to the courageous 9/11 responders, many of whom had been denied health care aid from their private insurers.
As I look at all these accomplishments, I am grateful for them. My only bone of contention is that many have not gone far enough. But, as the Tea Party faction will soon learn starting January 3, 2011, politics is the art of compromise and change. I will meantime continue to press for additions and changes to what has been passed. But all in all, this was a pretty darn effective Congress and first two years of an administration, and I am anxious for more, especially in the area of the Dream Act and overall immigration reform. When we will get these things is anybody's guess. My own belief is that we'll see movement after the congressional and presidential elections in 2012, but we shall see. In the interim, it will be very interesting to see how the differences between the current Republican establishment and the newly-elected Tea Party faction will turn out...