WASHINGTON -- President Obama wrapped up a lame duck congressional session with strong victories on Wednesday, and flew off to Hawaii for a winter break to close out two very productive legislative years.
The Senate on Wednesday handed Obama his top international priority and ratified the New START nuclear treaty with Russia--making the win sweeter because 13 Republicans climbed on board. The House and Senate sprinted through a stalled bill to compensate 9/11 workers injured at the World Trade Center site. In the morning, Obama signed the repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell law banning gays from serving openly in the military.
The last weeks have seen a legislative blitz. A food safety bill, years in the making, is headed to Obama's desk to sign. He recently signed a child nutrition bill and that tax compromise that forced Obama to extend Bush-era tax breaks for the very rich until 2012 in exchange for payroll tax deductions and unemployment benefits extensions.
As the Obama presidency nears midterm, there are other historic achievements that affect a lot of people: the health reform bill, new Wall Street regulations, creation of a consumer financial protection bureau, extension of unemployment benefits, the economic stimulus package, regulation of tobacco products and the popular cash for clunkers program.
"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," Obama said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon
He bragged about his legislative accomplishments, especially the bills -- some long held up -- that passed after the Nov. 2 election "shellacking," where the GOP won the House and picked up Senate seats.
"If there's any lesson to draw from these past few weeks, it's that we are not doomed to endless gridlock. We've shown, in the wake of the November elections, that we have the capacity not only to make progress, but to make progress together," Obama said.
Obama's biggest disappointments were the failure of Congress to pass the DREAM Act, dealing with legalizing the status of undocumented youths in the U.S. and a long-term budget bill. Congress passed a temporary measure to keep government running until March.
Congress hustled these last weeks in part because Democrats knew Republicans take over the House on Jan. 5, and Democrats soon will be weaker in the Senate. Obama will have to navigate through hostile GOP investigative hearings and attempts to defund and or repeal his health care and Wall Street laws.
Said Obama, "And I'm not naïve. I know there will be tough fights in the months ahead. But my hope heading into the New Year is that we can continue to heed the message of the American people and hold to a spirit of common purpose in 2011 and beyond."