By Ian Swanson - 12/22/10 10:48 PM EST
The post-election congressional session has been anything but lame for President Obama.
The Senate’s ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia caps a run of victories for a president who in November suffered what he called “a shellacking” of historic proportions in the midterm elections.
He’s also had a string of victories on smaller pieces of legislation, including a food-safety bill, which initially had been tripped up by a clerical error, and a child-nutrition bill backed by first lady Michelle Obama.
In what could be characterized as a fortunate break for the president, the Senate failed to pass an omnibus spending bill loaded with more than 6,000 earmarks. Obama publicly backed the $1.1 trillion spending measure, but signing the bill into law would have been politically awkward.
During a post-election press conference, Obama lamented the fact that he had signed some pieces of legislation filled with lawmakers’ pet projects.
Peter Fenn, a Democratic strategist and Washington veteran, said the lame-duck results allow Obama to say he heard the message from voters six weeks ago.
“The message of [the] elections was, ‘Get it done. Be pragmatic. We want to see something done on jobs and the economy and our wallets,' " said Fenn, a contributor to The Hill’s Pundits Blog. " 'Give me substantive accomplishments.' "
On Wednesday, Obama took something of a victory lap at a news conference at the Old Executive Office Building, before heading off for a holiday vacation in Hawaii.
"I think it's safe to say this has been the most productive post-election period we have had in decades," he said. "We are not doomed to endless gridlock.
"One thing I hope people have seen in this lame-duck: I am persistent," he added.
Of course, Obama has not gotten everything he wanted in the lame-duck. For example, his effort to pass the DREAM Act immigration bill fell short. Obama has indicated he will keep fighting for that bill, but it has little chance of moving in the 112th Congress.
Some Republicans believe the lame-duck session is turning out to be too productive for Democrats.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Tuesday criticized his fellow Senate Republicans for giving Democrats the votes to approve a string of measures.
“When it’s all going to be said and done, [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid [D-Nev.] has eaten our lunch,” Graham said on Fox News radio. “This has been a capitulation, in two weeks, of dramatic proportions of policies that wouldn’t have passed in the new Congress.”
Graham supported the tax-cut/unemployment benefits deal earlier this month, but he opposed the effort to repeal “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Late last month, Graham predicted it was unlikely Democrats would find the votes to eradicate the Pentagon policy, implemented during the Clinton administration.
Obama’s lame-duck victories help position him as a centrist, which could be crucial to his reelection effort in 2012.
“I think this notion that he’s taking on Democrats and Republicans, people like,” said Fenn.
Liberal Democrats ripped Obama for agreeing to a generous estate-tax provision and an extension of tax rates that will allow wealthier taxpayers to hold on to more of their money. But 69 percent of those surveyed in a Washington Post/ABC News poll approve of the package.
Obama angered the right by getting the lame-duck Congress to end “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” But the move was also popular with the broader public; 77 percent of those asked by the Post and ABC earlier this month said gays and lesbians who disclose their sexual orientation should be able to serve in the military.
Unions, meanwhile, were not pleased with Obama’s proposal — initially offered by Republicans — to freeze the pay of federal employees.
The White House acknowledges it is governing differently from how it did before the election.
“I think the president would admit that he spent more time reaching out to Republicans recently than in previous times,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday.
Congressional Republicans and the White House will soon enter an era of divided government where both sides will share responsibility for the economy. The White House believes this will lead to more cooperation from the GOP.