Editorial: Not So ‘Lame’ Duck Congress Surprises

Just a few scant weeks ago, in the aftermath of the Midterm elections, few would have predicted that the so-called “Lame Duck” session of Congress would have compiled such an impressive record of accomplishments.

President Barack Obama described the Midterm elections – in which his party lost its majority in the House and several key seats in the Senate – as a “shellacking.”

The existing Congress gathered in Washington for what most observers believed would be another example of gridlock and zero-sum politics between Democrats and Republicans. Just before the Congress went back into session, Obama met with former President Bill Clinton, the masterful politician and centrist who had been able to become the “Comeback Kid” after taking a drubbing in the 1994 midterm elections.

Obama had met with Republican leaders to hammer out a compromise tax package, which preserved all existing tax rates, including those for the very wealthy. Members of Obama’s own party expressed outrage over the compromise and accused the President of being a “sell-out.” But the overwhelming passage of the tax bill cleared the way for a dizzying array of positive legislation in the remaining days of the session.

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Perhaps the most significant reform was the repeal of the outdated and in many ways odious “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy. Now gay and lesbian members of all branches of our armed forces will be allowed to serve openly, rather than having to live a lie.

As a candidate, Obama had promised to end the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and with the help of his own party, aided by 11 Republicans, he was able to fulfill that promise. Democrats were joined by the hard work of Independent Senator Joe Lieberman and moderate Republican Senator Olympia Snow, who did heroic work to assure its passage.

Also of great significance was the ratification by the Senate of the New START Treaty with Russia, which provides for the reduction of the number of offensive nuclear warheads and a resumption of vitally important on-site inspections to assure compliance. Obama was able to provide sufficient assurance that the treaty would enhance rather than injure U.S. security, so the pact was ratified with impressive bipartisan support.

Also of note was the passage of the bill pledging federal funds for the health care of 9/11 responders which had not been expected to pass.  After some modifications in the original draft were approved, enough Republicans signed on to join the Democrats to secure the passage of this important legislation.

One disappointing setback was the failure to gain passage of the “Dream Act,” which would have given a path to citizenship for (mostly Latino) immigrants who have lived in the United States for most of their lives and who have served in the military and attended college. We hope that this measure can be revisited and passed by a similar bipartisan majority in the new Congress. “Politics is the art of the possible,” goes a familiar aphorism.

President Obama and members of both parties in the just concluded Congress proved that much can be accomplished if people of good will are able to come together to support vitally needed legislation and reform. We hope that spirit will continue in the next Congress despite the fact that it will have a very different configuration. Poll after poll shows the vast majority of Americans prefer a Congress that will get things done, rather than succumb to total gridlock caused by ideological extremists blocking progress.