Pablo Martinez Monsivais/ASSOCIATED PRESS
President Barack Obama laughs during a news conference on the White House complex, Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010.
President Barack Obama laughs during a news conference on the White House complex, Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/ASSOCIATED PRESS
It's hard to say who had the better December, the University of Connecticut women's basketball team or President Obama and the lame-duck Democratic-controlled Congress.
If you had to choose, though, it'd probably be Obama and the congressional Democrats. The UConn women clearly have the edge over just about all their rivals.
By contrast, the conventional wisdom in Washington was that Obama and the congressional Democrats would be lucky to limp into the new year after the mid-term elections, with emboldened congressional Republicans hobbling them until the Christmas break.
In his Wednesday news conference, Obama acknowledged as much.
OBAMA: A lot of folks predicted a season of more partisanship and gridlock. Instead it's been a season of productivity for the American people...
... So I think it's fair to say that this has been the most productive post-election period we've had in decades. And it comes on the heels of the most productive two years that we've had in generations....
... If there's any lesson to learn from the past few weeks is that we're not doomed to endless gridlock.
On the Wednesday before Christmas, the president was able to point to an impressive number of initiatives that had seemed unlikely to get past the Republican opposition.
In the morning, he signed the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," ban on gays serving openly in the military. In the afternoon he saw the Senate ratify his top foreign policy priority, the New START nuclear arms control treaty with Russia, in a huge, bipartisan 71 to 26 vote, significantly better than the two-thirds vote needed.
As if that weren't enough good news in one day for the president and his fellow Democrats, the Senate broke the logjam on another Democratic bill that had gotten bogged down, legislation to fund extended health care for Sept. 11 first responders. The House quickly followed suit on that measure.
All of this came a few weeks after the first major victory following the mid-term elections, the passage of an extension of the Bush tax cuts — coupled with economic stimulus — an extension of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed and the a reduction in the Social Security payroll tax paid by U.S. workers.
True, Obama didn't get the DREAM act, which would have given some young illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.
But Obama indicated he plans on returning to that legislation next year. And it sounds like he intends to put Republicans on the defensive by framing it as an issue of fundamental decency.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that Hispanics are an increasingly important voting demographic likely to find Obama's stance on the DREAM Act more amenable than the legislation's Republican opponents.
Far from being a broken party, the Democrats appeared to legislate with an energy that suggested they intended to use every remaining hour of their dwindling time controlling both chambers of Congress to legislate considering that in just a few weeks Republicans would control the House agenda.
That suggests 2011 is likely to be a more challenging year for Obama as he will find a Tea Party-flavored, Republican House that will likely make him long for the days when House liberals accused him of repeatedly throwing them under the bus.
Meanwhile, the Senate will be more Republican, increasing the hostility in that chamber, too.
But while Obama will be challenged, so will congressional Republicans. If legislation grinds to a halt with the change in the House majority, Republicans could find themselves catching a lot of the blame.
Obama has already proven he's willing to deal with his Republican opposition. He has made compromise his watchword. All he has to do is point to the productivity of the lame-duck session and the bipartisan success then.
If that bipartisanship collapses going into 2011, and if Obama can plausibly point to the new Republican-controlled House as the reason, many voters may be prepared to accept his argument.
So the lame-duck session has arguably given Obama a significantly stronger hand going into the new year than most people would've guessed on Election Day 2010.
For Obama, Christmas came early.