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True or False – The 111th Congress Has Been A Gridlocked Failure?

The 111th Congress is coming to an end. This Congress has served from January 3, 2009 to the present. It will end January 3, 2011. Criticism of its work abounds in the media and in conversations across the country. To listen to popular talk shows, the men and women who were elected to govern the country have  been unable to work together to accomplish anything of substance. This Congress has been a failure, they claim, and its members don’t deserve re-election. Nevertheless, the answer to our question is a resounding FALSE.

The 111th Congress has been amazingly successful in passing major pieces of legislation, more so than any other Congress since the 1960s. According to Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, the record of the current Congress is “at least on a par with the 89th Congress” of 1965-1967. The problem is that we’ve been too distracted by the economic challenges of the Great Recession that began in December 2007 and ended during 2009 to realize what a huge success this Congress has been. Economic challenges and the challenges of war on two fronts are constantly in the news. We hear how many people are out of work. We know how slow business has been to hire new employees. We hear in passing how much more Wall Street traders are making than most American workers earn. But we don’t hear often enough how much worse it all could have been if Congress and President Obama had not moved quickly to halt the downward slide into a Depression that would have rivaled the Great Depression.

Like the 89th Congress, the work of the 111th Congress has been controversial. The introduction of Medicare and Medicaid was as tumultous as the effort to enact the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has been. The civil rights laws, including the Voting Rights Act, were at least as unpopular as efforts to extend civil rights protections to homosexual Americans have been. Still, if we are honest, where would we be now if those brave men and women had not done the right thing and provided a way for senior citizens and low income citizens to have access to health care? Where would we be if America were still strictly segregated and non-Whites were not allowed to vote?

Successes of the 111th Congress include: 

  • the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to make health insurance available for more Americans and reduce the impact of the cost of health care on the federal deficit by moving the uninsured into the private insurance market rather than keeping the cost of their care in the public arena, 
  • the economic stimulus program, including income tax reductions for most Americans and funding  for many infrastructure projects that are just getting off the ground now,
  • the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, a set of new regulations for the financial services industry to prevent the kinds of abuses that led to the financial melt-down of 2008 and the current mortgage crisis,
  • reforms to make college loans more affordable for students so that they can pursue their dreams of education, thereby helping maintain America’s position as a leader in innovation and technology,  
  • rescue of the automobile industry through the Cash for Clunkers program and federal support for two major manufacturers that allowed them  time to return to financial stability/health,
  • improved consumer protections for credit card users,
  • increased federal regulation of tobacco products,
  • easier ways for women to challenge discrimination in wages,
  • crack downs on waste in weapons procurement at the Pentagon,
  • tax incentives for businesses to hire unemployed workers,
  • tax credits for first time homeowners,
  • making hate crimes based on sexual orientation a federal offense and
  • many other programs to help get America and her citizens back on their feet.

This is not a record of failure. This has been accomplished without a 60 vote majority in the Senate. This has been accomplished without the ability to run roughshod over the opposition in the House.  It has been the result of hard work and efforts to work in a bipartisan fashion with members of an opposition party that seemed uninterested in working with the party in power at all. It has been accomplished despite the breakdown of working partnerships between elected officials of opposing parties.

As we go to cast our ballots, let’s be sure we’re informed about what actually happened in this Congress. It’s record has not been perfect. It hasn’t accomplished all that partisans of either side might have liked to see. But it hasn’t done a bad job either. In fact, the judgement of history is likely to be that it was incredibly successful given the political atmosphere and the economic challenges under which it operated.

True or False – The 111th Congress has been a gridlocked failure? The correct answer is FALSE.


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