The 113th Congress passed 286 bills during its two-year term, only three more than the 112th Congress which had the lowest recorded total in congressional history and less than one-third of the 906 public bills passed by the infamous “Do Nothing Congress,” the 80th during Harry Truman’s second term as president. Fifty-one of these bill were signed last Thursday, saving the 113th from being the worst. Congress struggled to complete even routine tasks, and one-fifth of the bills were to name a postal or other government facility.
GOP senators used the filibuster to block almost all major legislation, and the House finished off the process when Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) blocked proposals from the floor unless they had a GOP majority support. For almost an entire month, Congress couldn’t even keep the government operating. Even Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a 32-year veteran of Congress, described the 113th Congress as “disgraceful.” [The following chart shows the number of bills before the last 51.]
The fall election netted Republicans 13 members in the House, leaving 188 Democrats. In the Senate, Democrats dropped to 44 members, losing eight seats. Two senators are progressive-leaning independents. Thirty-one states now have Republican governors, and 80 percent of those states also have a GOP legislature.
Two years ago, Democrats won the Senate, had more votes for House members than Republicans did, and took the presidency through a majority vote. Despite these progressive victories, conservatives declared that they had a mandate to destroy President Obama and proceeded on that path. In this election, Republicans the same mandate, again trying to deny the president any rights.
Despite these unpleasant numbers for progressive people in the United States, there is hope. In his end-of-the-year press conference the president asserted that he is energized, and his actions since the election demonstrate his high level of vigor. A few things that President Obama has done in less than two months:
- Announced his support for net neutrality, asking federal regulators to toughen their laws by putting utility-like regulation on broadband providers.
- Made a climate deal with China to reduce greenhouse gases.
- Issued an executive order to protect undocumented people from the threat of deportation and keep families together.
- Signed off on EPA regulations with the EPA to limit ozone emissions.
- Oversaw Western sanctions on the regime of Vladimir Putin, a move that is destroying the Russian economy and dropping the value of the ruble by at least one half.
- Explained to the people of the United States that the Keystone Pipeline benefits only huge corporations with resources in Canada.
- Renormalized relations with Cuba, effectively bringing a Marxist-Authoritarian government into the capitalist light and paving the way to ending a 54-year embargo against the country.
- Released 17 detainees from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, over 10 percent of the detainees at that time.
- Noted that the Treasury Department sold the last investment related to the Wall Street and auto bailouts.
Another end-of-the-year surprise came after Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) insisted that his fellow senators stay in town to vote on a point of order. He wanted his fellow GOP senators to support his position that the spending bill was unconstitutional because it funded President Obama’s immigration actions. He got only 22 votes. Republicans were so angry that 20 of them, including leaders Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and John Cornyn (R-TX), voted against Cruz’s point of order.
Cruz’s demand led to the confirmation of over 90 nominees, almost all those who were pending. Notable among these is the confirmation of Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. Republicans had kept him waiting for 517 days on orders from the National Rifle Association because Murthy had called gun deaths a public health issue. Also Sarah Saldaña, confirmed as the firs Latina to head up the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was opposed by almost all the Republicans. Her vote was 55-39, however, not as close as the 51 to 41 for Murthy. The lack of filibuster kept the vote for these people to a simple majority rather than the 60 percent necessary in the past.
Another victory, thanks to Cruz, is the confirmation of 12 judicial nominees changing 9 of the 13 federal Circuit courts of appeal to a majority of Democratic appointments. Until recently, 10 of the 13 had a majority of appointments made by GOP presidents. The confirmations were also extremely diverse: 42 percent women, 19 percent African-American, 11 percent Hispanic, and 11 percent openly gay men or lesbian women, making this the most diverse group of judges in history. Diversity in judicial diversity appointments have greatly progressed since the middle of the 20th century.
When President Obama started his first term, the conservatives—both politicians and pundits—predicted total disaster for the country. Despite their attempts to stop everything that the president promoted, the country is making progress. The conservatives were wrong.
Gas is close to $2 a gallon, unemployment is falling, and the stock market, that skyrocketed during President Obama’s time, stays stable. The president’s approval rating is back up to 47 percent.
The 5-percent annual pace of GDP growth in the third quarter of this year, revised up from the estimated 3.9 percent, is the best quarterly growth since 2003. That was the year before George W. Bush got his second term. Economists believe that the improving economy will continue. The news caused the DOW stock market to soar over 18,000—an increase of 224 percent since President Obama first took office.
A majority of the public rates the country’s economy as “good” for the first time in seven years, when George W. Bush was president. In the CNN/ORC poll, 51 percent of the respondents found the economy to be either “somewhat good” or “very good,” up from 38 percent last October and 10 percent in September 2011.
The economy added 321,000 jobs in November, surpassing expectations and giving 2014 the highest job growth since 1999. The unemployment rate is below 6 percent, the first time since George W. Bush left the country in shambles. Thus far this year, the U.S. added almost 2.7 million jobs, the most since 1999, and dropped the unemployment rate to 5.8 percent from when President Obama first took office. Unemployment rates fell in 41 U.S. states in November; only three states—Connecticut, Louisiana, and Washington—saw these rates go up. Mississippi has the highest rate at 7.3 percent. In six years, President Obama created 4.26 times as many jobs as his predecessor in eight years.
Consumer spending surpassed previous estimates of 2.2 percent to 3.2 percent, partly fueled by the low price of gas. After saving hundreds of dollars this year, consumers may save an average of another $550 next year just on gas.
About 6.4 million Americans have enrolled for individual insurance plans for 2015 through HealthCare.gov in the participating 36 states. Another one million people enrolled in individual states with their own exchange marketplaces. The drop in the number of uninsured is the largest in four decades. Despite promises from conservatives that private-sector employers will get rid of their own coverage plans, that hasn’t happened in many companies. Walmart dropping its plan was the exception, and that company’s plan was largely worthless to many employees because people were employed for fewer than 29 hours of work a week and therefore got no health insurance anyway.
In other health expenditure news, premiums are going down and customer satisfaction is going up. The increase in health care spending is the lowest in 50 years, and the number of medical errors is shrinking system-wide.
Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-CA) attempt to destroy the president failed on two counts: Benghazi and the IRS. Much to the fury of many conservatives, a GOP-led House committee’s report, quietly released the day before Thanksgiving, stated that the Obama administration was not at fault for the four deaths at a diplomatic outpost in Libya. Two days before Christmas, Darrell Issa (R-CA), no longer chair of the House Oversight Committee as of January, released a report exonerating President Obama of any blame in the IRS scandal.
Despite a waste of resources in an attempt to prove a connection between the president and accusations that the IRS had targeted conservative organizations for punitive action, Issa failed to support his false belief. Instead he resorted to attempts to connect Democrat legislators with the IRS scandal and rejected any information that the IRS targeted more progressive groups than conservative in investigating non-profit status. After two years of playing “gotcha” with the President of the United States, Issa lost.
The Republicans had a lot to say about the president’s executive orders. Their response to good news? Nothing. Just silence.
One last thing: Sean Hannity has been voted the worst news host by his colleagues at Fox, MSNBC, and CNN.