For a man who said he suffered a "shellacking" at the polls and an elbow to the lower lip in a basketball game, President Barack was standing tall yesterday. The "lame duck" session of the 111th Congress will go down as one of the most productive sessions in history, but this just may be the calm before the storm.
The president's legislative accomplishments this past month are truly remarkable. Many initiatives thought to be beyond reach passed in a legislative flurry. The START Treaty, repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell", which the president signed today in an emotional ceremony at the White House, a continuing resolution to extend government financing to March 4, the extension of unemployment benefits, and compensation for the 9/11 survivors were among the measures pushed through Congress at the end of their term. Many members of Congress deserve credit, but the brightest light shines on President Obama.
President Obama has accomplished an amazing amount during his first two years in office. The "Recovery Act" saved more than 3 million jobs from being lost. The auto industry bailout has helped the U.S. auto industry regain its footing. Banking reform will make it harder for financial institutions to lead this country to the precipice of economic failure. Historic health care reform will expand coverage to millions of Americans, preventing those with a pre-existing condition or those who lose their jobs from being dropped by insurance companies. It will also help control health care costs and allow parents to keep children up to 25 years of age on their policy. Also among his achievements, the appointment of Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
In a few short weeks the president has positioned himself as more bipartisan than the Republicans. A new CNN poll shows voters approve by a margin of 56 to 42 percent the president's handling of this congressional session. Only 42 per cent approved the Republicans' handling of the session. The poll also overwhelmingly found that the president did enough to compromise with Republicans, a 59 to 37 per cent margin.
But Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has vowed as his top priority to make President Barack Obama a one-term president. And, when Congress starts its new session, Rep. John Boehner will take the Speaker's gavel and the leadership of the new Republican majority in the House. Together they will do all they can to repeal health care reform and many other progressive initiatives. First they will have to reconcile their agenda with that of their Tea Party wing.
The president is correct to state that the newly empowered Republicans will have to take some responsibility for governing. No more "no". But with unemployment hovering around 10 per cent, a burgeoning deficit and the certainty of numerous Congressional investigations by the House Oversight Committee, led by GOP Congressman Darrell Issa, the next congressional session promises to be rocky for the White House.
Nonetheless, President Barack Obama is in a good place right now, better than anyone would have imagined just six weeks ago. He has succeeded by leading. He has succeeded, in his own words, by being "persistent" about the things he cares about. If he stays the course, he will likely prevail in the 2012 presidential election.