It’s already been pointed out endlessly that the 111th Congress has been one of the most productive in decades. But here’s another way to look at it: Consider all the things this Congress has accomplished that we aren’t talking about.
Health care reform, the overhaul of Wall Street regulations, the ratification of New START and the repeal of don’t ask don’t tell are, of course, the accomplishments that will define this Congress in the history books. But there are a whole host of other relatively under-the-radar achievements that in and of themselves would normally be considered major achievements, had they not been completely overshadowed by the big ticket items.
Before we all depart for the holidays, let’s pause for a moment of reflection on these also-ran accomplishments, some of which passed with broad bipartisan support. There’s the Lily Ledbetter fair pay act, which reversed a Supreme Court decision limiting the ability of women to sue over salary discrimination. There’s the sweeping credit card reform measure putting a halt to unfair and deceptive industry practices. There’s the landmark legislation that greatly expanded the FDA’s authority to regulate the manufacturing and marketing of tobacco products.
There’s the largely forgotten measure that vastly expanded Federal aid to college kids that ultimately passed as part of health reform. More visibly, there is the food safety bill and the measure granting health benefits to 9/11 responders, both of which passed this month. And two women were confirmed to the Supreme Court, one of them a Latina — a historic accomplishment.
This is only a partial list.
Under normal circumstances, these alone would have constituted significant achievements. “When you look beneath the surface just a little bit there’s an enormous amount that under normal circumstances would have been heralded but got very little attention,” Congressional scholar Norm Ornstein tells me.
The larger story here, though, is that if you add in these accomplishments with the more visible ones, it becomes clear that Congress has expanded government’s reach even more than commonly thought. For all the justifiable criticism of health and Wall Street reform for not going far enough — and for all the talk about the coming battle to repeal them — the bigger story is that the sum total of this Congress’s major and minor achievements have produced an expansion of government’s role in society that will be very hard to undo.
“Taken together, the smaller accomplishments may have an impact on society that rivals the main accomplishments, and they have all bolstered government’s role as a protector of the public interest,” Ornstein says.
And so, one more tip of the hat to the 111th Congress and its leadership.
By Greg Sargent -The Plum Line, Washington Post- December 23, 2010