Home > Congress, Domestic Issues > The Winter (and the Senate) of our Discontent…

The Winter (and the Senate) of our Discontent…

My apologies to Shakespeare as I start this post with a quote (with some small changes) from Richard the Third

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of Illinois;
And all the clouds that low’r’d upon our Senate
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried, for now.

During the election cycles of 2006 and 2008, there was a slow but steady shift of both Houses from Republican control.  With those shifts, the 111th Congress was very solidly in the hands of the Democrats.

It was a short twenty-four months ago when we had both a new President and a new Congress.  President Obama came into office on the chants of “Yes, we can”, and he had a sweeping agenda of change planned.  With a very comfortable margin in Congress, and the House led by the first female Speaker ever, most political pundits at the time were saying that there was going to be a massive shift in policy and procedure.  He wanted to change the way that Washington did politics.  He wanted to have more transparency in the way legislation was handled, by having bills be posted online for anyone to read before a vote was called – Sunlight Before Signing.  He wanted to end the bickering and bi-partisanship that has grown over the past few years.  He also wanted to see an end of special interests and lobbying groups controlling what laws and regulations are passed or not passed.

On Inauguration Day however, he entered office with a sagging economy, huge job losses, and what the previous administration had just passed –  the largest asset recovery bill in history, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

As we fast-forward to today, we have seen during this Congressional session an explosion of filibustering, secret holds, the right-wing media spinning lie after lie, nominees for many positions in government held up, and stall baby stall by the Republicans.  The minority party has gone out of their way to not only slow down any measure that would help this country during this Congress, they have also made clear their intentions as to what their plans are for the next – President Obama will be a one term President, regardless of the cost.

But even with the roadblocks by the Republicans, there is bright side to this Congress.  There were a lot of progressive and positive legislation that did find a way through the stalls and cloture calls to be signed into law, such as…

  • Health Care Reform – while not as sweeping as some would like, it does give coverage to millions who could not get it before
  • Wall Street Reform – so that another meltdown and buyout of the financial system will not happen
  • Credit Card Reform – a credit card Bill of Rights to protect consumers
  • Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act – changing the statute of limitations regarding pay discrimination
  • Bailouts of the Automotive Industry – keeping thousands of people employed during a recession, which will be paid off early and with a profit
  • American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – which created new jobs, saved current jobs, spurred economic growth, and gave accountability and transparency in government spending
  • FDA Food Safety Modernization Act – improves the ability to prevent, detect, and respond to food safety issues

The lame-duck session has seen a wave of new bills passed including a bill to give 9/11 First Responders needed assistance, passage of the START Treaty with Russia, and the controversial compromise bill that extended the Bush era tax cuts for all Americans (along with the huge deficits that come with passing tax cuts without spending cuts).  Now that it’s over, we also have the end of the Democratic control of the House that helped to pass all this legislation.  Will this be the end of the spirit of compromise and a return to “things as usual” – more filibusters, more cloture, and more secret holds – on January 5th?

There is a letter that has been signed by just about every returning Democrat in the Senate that wants to change the filibuster.  This change can be made, but only on the first day of the new Senate.  If the changes can be brought to the floor and approved, it may mean the end of needing a super-majority in order to just bring motions to the floor.  The filibuster can be used constructively and it does have a place in the Senate, however when the minority party can block every issue that needs to be discussed by forcing all proposals to be brought to cloture, it can only lead to gridlock and partisanship which means that none of the important work that Congress needs to do can ever get done.

Referring back to my quote, this is a time that we have seen good things happen.  There are a lot to be happy about at the end of the 111th Congress.  It has been noted that this Congress has passed more legislation that has affected more people than any Congress in the past forty years.  A lot of landmark bills and some good reforms finally passed the roadblock that is the United States Senate.

Are the successes we’ve seen during this Congress something that can be sustained into the next, or will the stalling and filibustering return next year as the clouds (and the Republican majority) return?



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