CONGRESS AND PROGRESS; Congressional Record Vol. 156, No. 15
(Extensions of Remarks - February 02, 2010)

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[Extensions of Remarks]
[Page E127]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []

                         CONGRESS AND PROGRESS


                           HON. CHAKA FATTAH

                            of pennsylvania

                    in the house of representatives

                       Tuesday, February 2, 2010

  Mr. FATTAH. Madam Speaker, I rise today to call to the attention of 
my colleagues an important and insightful commentary in the Sunday 
Washington Post--``A Very Productive Congress'' by Norman Ornstein, 
resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
  Norman Ornstein is no raving liberal, nor is AEI considered among the 
ranks of progressive think tanks. Even more to the point, Ornstein is 
no fan of this august body. As the editor's note describes, he is co-
author of ``The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How 
to Get It Back on Track.'' His study, co-written with Thomas Mann, was 
published in 2006 when, I might suggest, a great many in the House 
today would have readily agreed.
  So it is significant and, frankly, a hopeful sign for progress in our 
democracy that Ornstein cites the high legislative achievement of the 
111th Congress and the dramatic if overlooked success of President 
Obama since January 2009:
  ``. . . This Democratic Congress is on a path to become one of the 
most productive since the Great Society 89th Congress in 1965-66, and 
Obama already has the most legislative success of any modern 
president--and that includes Ronald Reagan and Lyndon Johnson,'' 
Ornstein writes. ``The deep dysfunction of our politics may have 
produced public disdain, but it has also delivered record 
  Ornstein in particular praises the American Recovery and Reinvestment 
Act as a monumental achievement that would draw even greater 
recognition if it had been passed as a series of separate programs to 
reshape and fund education reform, health information technology, an 
energy smart grid, far-reaching job recovery and much more--``Instead, 
the Congress did it in one bill.''
  I am a dedicated viewer of the Sunday talk shows. This past Sunday my 
channel surfing failed to locate a single commentator, legislator, 
scholar or talking head referencing the Ornstein essay. So I am sharing 
Norman Ornstein's article here in hopes that it will stimulate further 
discussion, appreciation of the Congressional leadership, and proper 
perspective of our accomplishments at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

               [From the Washington Post, Jan. 31, 2010]

   A Very Productive Congress, Despite What the Approval Ratings Say

                          (By Norman Ornstein)

       When President Obama urged lawmakers during his State of 
     the Union speech to work with him on ``restoring the public 
     trust,'' he was hardly going out on a limb. The Congress he 
     was addressing is one of the least popular in decades. Barely 
     a quarter of Americans approve of the job it's doing, 
     according to the latest Gallup/USA Today poll, while 58 
     percent said it was below average or one of the worst ever, 
     according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal survey last month.
       It's not hard to find reasons why Americans are down on 
     Capitol Hill, and why President Obama's approval rating has 
     dropped below 50 percent in many polls. A year into the 111th 
     Congress, unemployment remains at 10 percent, and many 
     Americans are struggling to get by--even as they've watched 
     Congress bail out banks and coddle the same bankers now 
     salivating over massive new bonuses. At the same time, the 
     public has had a front-row seat to the always messy 
     legislative process on health care and other issues, and this 
     past year that process has been messier, more rancorous and 
     more partisan than at any point in modern memory.
       There seems to be little to endear citizens to their 
     legislature or to the president trying to influence it. It's 
     too bad, because even with the wrench thrown in by Republican 
     Scott Brown's election in Massachusetts, this Democratic 
     Congress is on a path to become one of the most productive 
     since the Great Society 89th Congress in 1965-66, and Obama 
     already has the most legislative success of any modern 
     president--and that includes Ronald Reagan and Lyndon 
     Johnson. The deep dysfunction of our politics may have 
     produced public disdain, but it has also delivered record 
       The productivity began with the stimulus package, which was 
     far more than an injection of $787 billion in government 
     spending to jump-start the ailing economy. More than one-
     third of it--$288 billion--came in the form of tax cuts, 
     making it one of the largest tax cuts in history, with 
     sizable credits for energy conservation and renewable-energy 
     production as well as home-buying and college tuition. The 
     stimulus also promised $19 billion for the critical policy 
     arena of health-information technology, and more than $1 
     billion to advance research on the effectiveness of health-
     care treatments.
       Education Secretary Arne Duncan has leveraged some of the 
     stimulus money to encourage wide-ranging reform in school 
     districts across the country. There were also massive 
     investments in green technologies, clean water and a smart 
     grid for electricity, while the $70 billion or more in energy 
     and environmental programs was perhaps the most ambitious 
     advancement in these areas in modern times. As a bonus, more 
     than $7 billion was allotted to expand broadband and wireless 
     Internet access, a step toward the goal of universal access.
       Any Congress that passed all these items separately would 
     be considered enormously productive. Instead, this Congress 
     did it in one bill. Lawmakers then added to their record by 
     expanding children's health insurance and providing stiff 
     oversight of the TARP funds allocated by the previous 
     Congress. Other accomplishments included a law to allow the 
     FDA to regulate tobacco, the largest land conservation law in 
     nearly two decades, a credit card holders' bill of rights and 
     defense procurement reform.
       The House, of course, did much more, including approving a 
     historic cap-and-trade bill and sweeping financial regulatory 
     changes. And both chambers passed their versions of a health-
     care overhaul. Financial regulation is working its way 
     through the Senate, and even in this political environment it 
     is on track for enactment in the first half of this year. It 
     is likely that the package of job-creation programs the 
     president showcased on Wednesday, most of which got through 
     the House last year, will be signed into law early on as 
       Most of this has been accomplished without any support from 
     Republicans in either the House or the Senate--an especially 
     striking fact, since many of the initiatives of the New Deal 
     and the Great Society, including Social Security and 
     Medicare, attracted significant backing from the minority 
       How did it happen? Democrats, perhaps recalling the 
     disasters of 1994, when they failed to unite behind Bill 
     Clinton's agenda in the face of uniform GOP opposition, came 
     together. Obama's smoother beginning and stronger bonds with 
     congressional leaders also helped.
       But even with robust majorities, Democratic leaders deserve 
     great credit for these achievements. Democratic ideologies 
     stretch from the left-wing views of Bernie Sanders in the 
     Senate and Maxine Waters in the House to the conservative 
     approach of Ben Nelson in the Senate and Bobby Bright in the 
     House, with every variation in between. Finding 219 votes for 
     climate-change legislation in the House was nothing short of 
     astonishing; getting all 60 Senate Democrats to support any 
     version of major health-care reform, an equal feat. The White 
     House strategy--applying pressure quietly while letting 
     congressional leaders find ways to build coalitions--was 
       Certainly, the quality of this legislative output is a 
     matter of debate. In fact, some voters, including many 
     independents, are down on Congress precisely because they 
     don't like the accomplishments, which to them smack of too 
     much government intervention and excessive deficits. But I 
     suspect the broader public regards this Congress as 
     committing sins of omission more than commission. Before the 
     State of the Union, the stimulus was never really sold in 
     terms of its substantive measures; it just looked like money 
     thrown at a problem in the usual pork-barrel way. And many 
     Americans, hunkering down in bad times, may not accept the 
     notion of ``countercyclical'' economic policies, in which the 
     government spends more just when citizens are cutting back.
       Most of the specific new policies--such as energy 
     conservation and protection for public lands--enjoy solid and 
     broad public support. But many voters discount them simply 
     because they were passed or proposed by unpopular lawmakers. 
     In Massachusetts, people who enthusiastically support their 
     state's health-care system were hostile to the very similar 
     plan passed by Congress. Why? Because it was a product of 
       Well before Sen.-elect Brown's Bay State upset, it was 
     clear that a sterling legislative record in the first half of 
     the 111th Congress did not guarantee continuing action in 
     2010 or beyond. And now, Democrats' success at keeping 59 
     senators in line means little if they cannot find someone on 
     the other side willing to become vote No. 60. With 
     Republicans ebullient over the Massachusetts election, the 
     likelihood is that they will feel vindicated in their ``just 
     say no'' strategy, Obama's leadership lectures 
       If the midterm elections in November turn out to be more 
     like 1994, when Democrats got hammered, than 1982, when 
     Republicans suffered a less costly blow, the GOP will 
     probably be emboldened to double down on its opposition to 
     everything, trying to bring the Obama presidency to its knees 
     on the way to 2012. That would mean real gridlock in the face 
     of a serious crisis. Given the precarious coalitions in our 
     otherwise dysfunctional politics, we could go quickly from 
     one of the most productive Congresses in our lifetimes to the 
     most obstructionist.
       And voters would probably like that even less.