In one of the most activist lame-duck sessions ever, Democrats and President Barack Obama appeared on the verge Tuesday of pulling off a series of stunning legislative victories during a term that can’t end soon enough for Republicans, who are increasingly frustrated that November’s landslide has given way to what one senator described as GOP “capitulation.”
The latest Democratic victory: a 67-28 vote Tuesday closing off debate on the New START with Russia limiting nuclear arms. Despite a tense, closed-door meeting among GOP senators before the vote, 11 Republicans agreed to close off debate on the New START agreement.
Observers say that means the treaty is very likely to be ratified as early as Wednesday.
Speaking on Fox News radio Friday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., blasted members of his own caucus for not fighting more effectively to thwart the Democratic agenda.
"When it's all going to be said and done, [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid has eaten our lunch," Graham said. "This has been a capitulation in two weeks of dramatic proportions of policies that wouldn't have passed in the new Congress."
Most lame-duck sessions take up stopgap spending measures, symbolic resolutions, and minor pieces of legislation. But for Republicans, the lame-duck Congress of 2010 may be one they’d rather forget.
Republican senators opened the lame-duck session by stating that, beyond a continuing resolution to fund the government and the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts, they wanted to “kick the can” on any other legislation down the road until a much more conservation 112th Congress could take office in January.
GOP leaders were able to cut a deal with President Obama on extension of the Bush tax cuts. But that bargain came at a steep price — billions in unemployment benefits and tax breaks. Some pundits say the tax-cut compromise effectively handed the president the second stimulus he so desperately needed to try to revive the economy. And some grass-roots conservatives grumbled because there were no corresponding cuts in spending.
Other than taxes, the big victory for Republicans in the lame-duck session was the defeat of the $1.2 trillion omnibus spending bill, which contained more than 6,600 earmarks. Reid thought he had the Republican votes he needed, but a last-minute backlash from tea party supporters put the kibosh on the nearly 2,000-page funding bill.
On Tuesday, several Republicans — including Sens. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Dick Lugar of Indiana, Olympia Snowe of Maine, and Bob Corker of Tennessee — appeared ready to line up and vote to approve President Obama’s nuclear arms agreement with Russia.
News that some Republicans would cross the aisle to support the New START prompted one major GOP fund-raising group, the National Republican Trust PAC, to pledge to recruit primary opponents to run against any Republican senator who votes to approve the deal with the Russians.
Several other key pieces of legislation passed during Democrats’ lame-duck revival:
- A repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which political wags say will fire up the liberal base whose energy was markedly lacking in the midterm elections
- Completion of a food safety bill that grants the federal government broad new power to inspect food processing plants, while raising the standards for food imported into the United States
- Republicans agreed to ease a blockade that had stopped about 20 of Obama’s judicial nominations from being seated on the federal bench
- The continuing resolution to fund the government includes an amendment that institutes Obama’s proposal for a two-year freeze in federal worker pay
- In an administrative rather than congressional decision, the FCC moved Tuesday to impose limited “net neutrality” regulations on Internet providers, a move strongly opposed by Republicans. The ruling is widely expected to be challenged in the courts.
On the other side of the ledger, Republicans were able to block the DREAM Act, which would have provided a limited route to amnesty for illegal residents who enroll in college or serve in the military. The fate of a bill providing benefits to 9/11 first responders remained undetermined Tuesday.
Sarah Binder, a Brookings Institution senior fellow, told ABC News that Democrats were united by the knowledge that a much more conservative Congress was poised to take the reins in Washington come January.
“The prospect of sharing the gavel with Republicans seems to have motivated Democrats to keep up a relentless push to the end – knowing that many of these legislative efforts would be dead on arrival in the new Congress,” said Binder.
As reported by TheHill.com, Graham lamented in his interview with WTMA radio that some Republicans appear to be almost as afraid of the new incoming Congress as Democrats.
"I can understand the Democrats being afraid of the new Republicans. I can't understand Republicans being afraid of the new Republicans," he said.
A lame-duck session, Graham complained, is not an opportunity “to take everything you couldn't do for two years and jam it. It's literally what they're doing, across the board. And after a while, I stop blaming them, and I blame us."
Graham blamed a handful of outgoing Republicans for letting Democrats have their way in the lame-duck Congress.
“And that's what makes me so upset," he said. "It makes me disappointed that, with a new group of Republicans coming in, we could get a better deal on almost everything."
American Enterprise Institute scholar Norm Ornstein told ABC News 2010 may be the most productive lame-duck session ever.
“It’s a smashing set of achievements, whether you like them or don’t like them,” he said.
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