Despite Bruising Election, Democrats and GOP Pass Major Legislation


"The real threat is a rogue state missile attack or an accidental launch. So what we're about to do is negotiate -- negotiate away something we desperately need in a Congress that doesn't represent the will of the people," a frustrated Graham told reporters after the treaty moved forward on a procedural vote. It is likely to pass Wednesday.

Read more about the New START treaty Still outstanding, besides the START treaty, is final agreement on a $6 billion measure to help 9/11 first responders.

The remarkable string of lame duck accomplishments began in early December when President Obama worked with Senate Republicans toward a tax cut compromise bill to avert the biggest tax hike in history, a sweeping food safety bill, and a repeal of the military's controversial "don't ask, don't tell policy" on gays serving openly in the military.

The President signed the official repeal of that policy – which will be phased in – at a ceremony in Washington Wednesday.

Ultimately, whether or not the 9/11 First Responders bill passes this year, analysts believe this is the most productive lame-duck session in the history of Congress. At a time when Congress is full of departing lawmakers with one foot out the door – due to retirement or midterm defeat – the recent flurry of activity on Capitol Hill has left Democrats flexing their muscles and Republicans crying foul.

Early in December, it looked like the lame duck would limp to an early end. In fact, the House initially had a target adjournment date of December 3. Over in the Senate, Republicans vowed to oppose all measures until Congress had resolved the issues of taxes and government funding.

"We're simply saying that what the results of the election say to us is that we ought to keep tax rates where they are, freeze spending, fund the government, and go home," the Senate's number-three Republican, Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said at the start of the month.

The GOP did succeed in getting Democrats to agree to an extension of all the Bush tax cuts and abandon a mammoth $1.1 trillion omnibus spending plan in favor of a short-term funding measure, but Democrats led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., emerged victorious on the other legislative measures.

"Sen. Reid has made it very clear throughout this Congress that he is laser-focused on the challenges facing struggling families and is not afraid to work long hours to address them. The lame duck has been no different," a Reid spokesman told ABC News. "While this session has been filled with Republican obstructionism, we're proud of what we have been able to accomplish for the country and we hope that the Republicans will work with us a little more next year."

Lame Duck Race to the Finish

According to Sarah Binder, a senior fellow at Washington's Brookings Institution, Democrats were especially driven to make a last-ditch push for a slew of their issues because come January, Republicans are poised to take control of the House and gain seats in the Senate.

"This has really been a remarkable race to the finish line for the Democratic Congress," Binder said. "Democrats in both chambers see the window closing on a wide range of Democratic initiatives. … The prospect of sharing the gavel with Republicans seems to have motivated Democrats to keep up a relentless push to the end – knowing that many of these legislative efforts would be dead on arrival in the new Congress."

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