The Most Productive Lame Duck Since WWII -- and Maybe Ever

It didn't just feel like the lame duck session of Congress now winding down got an unusual amount done. It's a fact, say congressional observers.

"It's official. Like it or not, this lame-duck session is the most productive of the 15 held since WWII," University of Virginia Center for Politics Director Larry Sabato said in a Wednesday tweet.

As ABC New noted in an examination of the issue: "More pieces of major legislation passed in the month of December than since March. That's when Democrats passed the landmark health reform bill and all action ground to a halt until the November elections, which crushed Democrats and emboldened Republicans."

Indeed, it could be the most productive of the lame duck Congressional sessions ever, which means since the current iteration of lame duckitude became possible in 1935 following the change in congressional terms brought about by ratification of the 20th Amendment.

There was "almost a torrent of legislation -- the damn broke," Sabato told The Atlantic. "Most of the lame ducks have just been housekeeping or clearing up some appropriations's an easy call."

But whether the 2010 lame duck session was the most productive since World War II -- when major war funding measures were passed during lame ducks -- or of all the 18 such sessions held since 1935, it's clear that once the Senate passed both the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal and the ratification of the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia, the waning days of the 111th Congress amounted to one of the most significant lame duck sessions anyone can recall.

Not only was it highly productive, but its accomplishments on the Senate side -- where the lame duck Democratic majority is more significant than it will soon be but still not able to move forward on major legislation without GOP support -- were packed into little more than a single action-filled week.

Among the session's accomplishments on the Senate side were passage of:

* The tax cut compromise extending the Bush tax cuts, creating new Obama tax cuts and extending unemployment insurance (12/15)

* The repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy (12/18)

* The food safety bill (12/19)

* The 9/11 First Responders Bill (12/22)

* New START ratification (12/22)

"The combination of START and 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is really quite an eye-opener given the intense polarization that's characterized the last two years," observed Sarah Binder, a Senior Fellow in the Governance Studies program at the Brookings Institution.

"They've actually pulled off quite a bit here," she said.

Driven by the looming Christmas holiday and the upcoming change in power in the House -- not to mention the likelihood that Democrats will not again control both Houses of Congress and the White House until 2014 at the earliest, should Obama win re-election -- Democrats were moved to push forward aggressively on controversial legislation they'd punted on all year long.

In this, they were joined by a handful of moderate Republicans who saw the lame duck as the last chance to move forward on key issues before a more fiscally and socially conservative Republican majority in the House and increased conservative minority in the Senate made such moves impossible.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Thumbnail image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Presented by

Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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