- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Far-reaching legislation aimed at reining in Wall Street marks the latest and likely the last major achievement by President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress, an 18-month partnership that strove simultaneously to fix a battered economy and enact sweeping changes in health care, education and financial regulation.

Whatever the longer term impact — the most far-reaching changes in the health care legislation won’t start until 2014 — the immediate aftermath is unemployment that scrapes double digits and deficits far deeper than Mr. Obama and his allies inherited in January 2009.

The Republicans who worked ceaselessly to thwart the president’s agenda are emboldened, while Democrats who voted it into law brace for majority-threatening election losses.

“Did they do the right thing for the public interest? I think so, but that depends on your values,” said James Thurber, professor and director of the Center for Congressional & Presidential Studies at American University. “You are elected, you get power, you govern and you change things the way you said you would.”

That doesn’t mean you will be rewarded.

“They’re going to get punished for it,” Mr. Thurber said, in part because the economy has not responded strongly, but also because midterm elections are rarely kind to the party in control of the White House.

That’s the long view — the political pendulum swings — a perspective rarely, if ever, in fashion in Congress and certainly not embraced in the run-up to an election. It also masks a perennial debate about the proper role of government in the economy, in health care, in the auto industry, in energy policy and other areas.

“If we had health care sooner, if we had energy sooner, if we had the education bill sooner, they were all three pillars of job creation, and that would have resulted in more jobs created by now,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at a news conference on Thursday. The 2009 economic stimulus legislation has created or saved 3.6 million jobs, she added, using an estimate that Republicans challenge.

“Without it, we would never have dug out of the deep recession that the Bush administration had taken us in,” Mrs. Pelosi said.

It was anything but an apology for the policies she, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and others have pursued relentlessly but something of a lament that the Senate can’t act as quickly as the House. Frustrated, House Democrats compiled a list of bills they have cleared but that still await action in the Senate. It amounts to 345 items.

Not surprisingly, there are far fewer if-onlys at the moment among Republicans, politically ascendant after losing seats in two straight elections.

“In every case, the administration saw a crisis and used it to achieve some other long-desired goal of the left. And the crisis remained,” Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said in a speech a few hours before the financial regulation bill won final approval.

“The trillion-dollar stimulus that promised to keep unemployment at 8 percent didn’t prevent 9.5 percent unemployment and a loss of nearly 3 million more American jobs,” he said at a Young Republican Leadership Conference. “The new health care law, according to the administration’s own actuary, will bring us higher, not lower, health care costs. The financial regulation bill doesn’t do a thing to reform the two institutions that played what may have been the leading role in creating the financial mess in the first place,” a reference to mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Mr. McConnell, House Republican leader John A. Boehner of Ohio and nearly all fellow Republicans voted against that bill, as well as the other major measures that Mr. Obama, Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Reid pushed to passage: the $787 billion economic stimulus bill, the $1 trillion health care measure designed to extend coverage to millions who now lack it, the more generous student loans made possible by stripping banks of their lucrative role as lending middlemen.

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