Democrats saw a clock ticking rapidly down following giant Republican gains in the House and a number of GOP pick-ups in the Senate. In spite of less than a two month deadline after election day on November 2, Democrats and the White House managed to achieve pieces of legislation, but unlike times past during the days of a filibuster proof majority, it was not without many hours, days, and weeks of negotiation.
9/11 Responders Health Bill – PASSED
The Senate passed the 9/11 responders bill by unanimous consent on Wednesday afternoon after Democrats negotiated with GOP members to strip down the legislation to an acceptable version members could agree on. Senator Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, took issue with the original items in the second version of this now passed bill.
START Treaty – RATIFIED
Democrats were able to fish out 13 Republicans to help ratify the new START treaty with Russia bringing the final passage tally 70 to 26. The function of the Start treaty would begin to limit weapon systems of both the United States and Russia. Republicans who joined Democrats to vote in favor of ratification were:
Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee
Senator Bob Bennett of Utah
Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts
Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi
Senators Snowe and Collins of Maine
Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire
Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia
Senator Mike Johanns of Nebraska
Senators Dick Lugar and George Voinovich of Ohio
Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska
Concerns from most other Republicans voting in the opposition ranged from language in the treaty’s preamble that could allow Russia to dictate the amount of American missile defense systems along with American missile offensive systems to the treaty’s complete exclusion of mobile Russian rail based ICBMs and launchers.
While Democrats argued the preamble was non-binding to both parties, those in opposition to the treaty countered the removal of the offending language could remedy the problem if the preamble was so irrelevant.
However, Russians seemed to dictate the terms of treaty and if any language changed, President Barack Obama would have to re-negotiate the pact with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Democrats used this possibility as a reason not to change anything in the treaty.
DADT Repeal – PASSED
The seventeen-year-old now former military policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed last weekend with the help of eight Republican Senators. These were:
Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts
Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine
Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois
Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska
Senator John Ensign of Nevada
Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina
Senator George Voinovich of Ohio
President Barack Obama signed the legislation on Wednesday. Conservatives now question how LGBT policy will be implemented, since the repeal of DADT means gay members of the military can serve openly as opposed to before the repeal.
DREAM Act – BLOCKED
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act failed to find enough votes in the Senate last weekend to overcome a Republican filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, promised his Hispanic constituents he would shepherd the pro-amnesty immigration bill through the chamber during the lame duck session.
This is not the first time Mr. Reid attempted to end debate on the DREAM Act and bring the bill to a vote. An earlier failed attempt happened right before the Senate recessed before the mid-term in elections.
President Barack Obama and outgoing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, have vowed to bring the DREAM Act back.
Food Safety Bill – PASSED
The food safety bill may not have been the most riveting piece of legislation for many to observe from the sidelines, but the passage of this bill has some incredible effects on American agriculture. According to the Western Farm Press:
On Tuesday, Congress passed food safety legislation providing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with new powers. Trying to halt a series of disease outbreaks in the nation’s food supply – and fresh off last summer’s salmonella outbreak and subsequent recall of 500 million eggs – the lame-duck Congress was under pressure to pump up the FDA’s inspection capabilities.
And so it did. In essence, the FDA is now charged with preventing food-borne disease outbreaks rather than trying to contain them once rampant.
Under the new law — among other new and expanded abilities — the FDA will be allowed to employ food recalls, access records at both farms and processing centers, and set quality standards for imported produce. In the FDA’s freshly-calibrated crosshairs are salmonella and E. coli and, therefore, a stepped-up inspection regime for all manner of products prone to bacterial contamination.
Tax Rate Extension compromise – PASSED
President Baarack Obama found himself in the middle of appeasing his liberal base who did not want to see the expiring Bush era tax cuts continued after 2011 and the rest of his Party concerned that American voters would look at Democrats as “tax hikers” if the Party allowed the tax rates to expire and elevate to pre-Bush era levels.
Initially passed in the House, amended in the Senate, and brought back to the House for a final vote, the tax rate extension bill caused inner party fighting on both sides of the aisle. A compromise among Republicans and Democrats was eventually hammered out allowing for liberals in the Democratic Party and conservatives within the GOP to either vote against the bill or show their disapproval for particular parts of the legislation without changing the bill.
Omnibus Package – WITHDRAWN
Threatened with a government shutdown, lawmakers scrambled to pass a bill that would fund the government. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, argued to pass a continuing resolution that would temporarily fund the government through February.
Mr. McConnell and Senate Republicans found themselves blind-sided by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, when the Nevada lawmaker introduced a massive omnibus package attached to a continuing resolution bill.
The omnibus package remained so unpopular, Mr. Reid likely could not garner enough votes to end debate and bring the omnibus up for a vote. In the end, he withdrew the package and a CR was passed minus earlier this week minus the omnibus. The CR will fund the government through March 2011.
Defense Authorization Bill – PASSED
The defense authorization bill was previously used as a vehicle to deliver the repeal of the now former military policy “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and to lift the ban on military personnel performing abortions on bases. Republicans in favor of the repeal of the DADT did not like that it was attached to the defense bill and conservatives fought against abortion language as well. The defense authorization bill, which is necessary to fund our nation’s military, languished over these controversial items.
In the end, the repeal of DADT was removed and proposed as stand alone legislation, which passed on its own, and the defense authorization bill was stripped of any further controversial measures. The defense bill passed on Wednesday sans the abortion language.