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December 22, 2007

110th Congress - First Session (2007) In Review

Key Setbacks Dim Luster of Democrats' Year
The first Democratic-led Congress in a dozen years limped out of Washington last night with a lengthy list of accomplishments, from the first increase in fuel-efficiency standards in a generation to the first minimum-wage hike in a decade. But Democrats' failure to address the central issues that swept them to power left even the most partisan of them dissatisfied and Congress mired at a historic low in public esteem.

Handed control of Congress last year after making promises to end the war in Iraq, restore fiscal discipline in Washington and check President Bush's powers, Democrats instead closed the first session of the 110th Congress yesterday with House votes that sent Bush $70 billion in war funding, with no strings attached, and a $50 billion alternative-minimum-tax measure that shattered their pledge not to add to the federal budget deficit.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: "Almost everything we've done has been historic."
Still, the Democrats delivered much of what they promised last year. Of the six initiatives on the their "Six for '06" agenda, congressional Democrats sent five to the president and got his signature on four:
  1. a minimum-wage increase,
  2. implementation of the homeland security recommendations of the 9/11 Commission,
  3. college cost reduction, and
  4. an energy measure that requires conservation and the expanded use of renewable sources of energy.
  5. Federal funding for [embryonic] stem cell research was vetoed by Bush.
Prescription drugs, never made it to the Senate.
Congress also boosted spending on veterans' needs. Just yesterday, Democrats unveiled a proposal to create the first nonpartisan ethics review panel in House history and passed the most significant gun-control legislation since the early 1990s, tightening the instant background-check process. Beyond those, Democrats secured the biggest overhaul of ethics and lobbying rules since the Watergate scandal.
Not accomplished:
But the disappointments have dominated the news, in large part because Democrats failed on some of the issues that they had put front and center, and that their key constituents value most.
  • The military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, remains open.
  • Bush's warrantless surveillance program was actually codified and expanded on the Democrats' watch.
  • Lawmakers were unable to eliminate the use of harsh interrogation tactics by the CIA.
Democratic leaders also could not overcome the president's vetoes on an expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, despite winning over large numbers of Republicans.

Policies that liberals thought would be swept aside under the Democratic majority remain untouched, including a prohibition on U.S. funding for international family-planning organizations that offer abortions.
Other issues:

White House:

Congress is currently off for Christmas.

The second session of the 110th Congress, 2008, is already taking shape.

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