- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The public panned it. Republicans obstructed it. Many Democrats fled from it. Even so, the session of Congress now drawing to a close was the most productive in nearly a half-century.

Not since the explosive years of the civil rights movement and the hard-fought debut of government-supported health care for senior citizens and lower-income Americans have so many big things - love them or hate them - been done so quickly.

Gridlock? It may feel that way. But that’s not the story of the 111th Congress — not the story history will remember.

Democrats are dearly hoping history won’t repeat itself. In 1966, after Democrats created Medicare and Medicaid and passed civil rights laws, they got hammered in the election, losing 48 seats in the House and four in the Senate. They maintained their majorities in both chambers at the time, but an identical result next month would turn the House over to Republicans.

In the 1960s, Democrats paid the price for events largely outside their control: an escalating war in Vietnam going badly, rowdy anti-war protests and violence in American cities, said Linda Fowler, professor of government at Dartmouth College.

“I think that’s what’s going on this time too,” Ms. Fowler said, “despite a very significant record of accomplishment.”

Democrats struggling to retain majorities in the House and Senate must deal with a public that is quick to blame Washington for the prolonged economic downturn. The public even resents the bank bailouts that were passed by the previous Congress.

In terms of legislative successes, the current session of Congress is “at least on a par with the 89th Congress” of 1965 to 1966, said Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

But, he added, Republicans have done all they could to discredit Congress, and Democrats have failed to sell their agenda. Moreover, it will take years to fully feel the effects of the health care law and the financial regulation overhaul.

“A world dominated by bickering and epithet-throwing and bomb-tossing in Washington obscures accomplishments,” Mr. Ornstein said.

Congress enacted an $814 billion economic stimulus package soon after President Obama took office, tapping a staggering sum of money to avoid a full-blown depression. Democrats have trumpeted the gains from that effort but know it’s not enough for restive voters. “Americans still see themselves in a ditch,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.

The two other landmark acts of this session were the health care overhaul, a giant step toward universal coverage that had eluded presidents back to Franklin D. Roosevelt if not Theodore Roosevelt, and the Wall Street accountability act.

Mr. Obama also has signed into law at least a dozen other pieces of legislation of significance. They include:

• Making college loans more affordable.

• The “cash for clunkers” program that helped rejuvenate auto sales, at least temporarily.

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