The Senate’s Christmas Eve passage of health care reforms capped a year of legislative victories for the Democrats, including a $787 billion economic stimulus and measures to expand government health insurance for poor children and fortify workplace discrimination laws.
But a great deal remains on President Obama’s congressional to-do list for 2010 - beginning with the thorny negotiations required to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the health care bill.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California ended the session boasting that her chamber’s overwhelming Democratic majority had muscled through key legislation on climate change, health care and Wall Street regulation. But none of these cornerstones of Mr. Obama’s agenda has yet been signed into law.
Democrats, who passed all major bills with little or no Republican support, next year must settle disputes within their party over funding abortion and whether to include a government-run insurance option in the final health care bill. Senate lawmakers remain hopeful that deadlock can be avoided for an overhaul of Wall Street regulations, and some centrist Senate Democrats want to postpone a climate change bill until after the 2010 elections.
Mrs. Pelosi called the incremental progress on Mr. Obama’s agenda a “blueprint for how we go forward” and touted other accomplishments, which for the House included passing a jaw-dropping volume of major legislation that ultimately stalled in the procedural labyrinth of the Senate.
“We are very proud of the record that we have,” Mrs. Pelosi told reporters at the close of the session, noting measures that were signed into law, such as the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act that expanded national volunteer programs such as AmeriCorps and Senior Corps.
Another milestone for the White House and the Democrat-led Congress was enacting a defense authorization bill that codified plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq and refocus military strategy on the war in Afghanistan, key campaign promises made by Mr. Obama.
But by most accounts, the chief accomplishment of Congress in 2009 was the massive stimulus package Mr. Obama signed into law Feb. 17, less than a month after he took office. He vowed in his inaugural address to take “bold and swift” action to reverse a steep economic downturn.
The $787 billion stimulus remains a political flash point and the jury is still out on whether the spending - less than a third of the cash has been doled out as of year’s end - averted another Great Depression or just drove up record-breaking budget deficits and government debt.
About 38 percent of Americans say the stimulus package hurt the economy, compared with 30 percent who say it helped and 28 percent who say it had no effect, according to a Rasmussen Reports survey last week. It was the first time the poll showed that a plurality thought the stimulus was counterproductive, though the number of people with that opinion has increased steadily for months.
Meanwhile, opinions of Congress remain low.
A Gallup Poll conducted Dec. 11 to 13 showed that 69 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing, compared with 25 percent who approved.
“Right now we’ve got double-digit unemployment, we’re got red ink as far as the eye can see, permanent bailouts and no long-term plan to put any of this back in shape,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “Speaker Pelosi and President Obama continue to put partisan politics before the interest of the American people.”
Democrats insist that the spending put the breaks on the recession and initiated a slow recovery, with the stock market rebounding and slowing job losses from 700,000 in January to 11,000 in November.
“Just looking at the economic and fiscal issues, according to our own plan, we are on the road to recovery, and we want that to continue,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “We are pretty excited about our great year. We were ready.”