952 Days Since Congress Passed Major Law

t's been more than two-and-a half years since the United States passed major legislation.

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It’s been more than two-and-a half years since major legislation made it through the Senate.

Molly Ball, The Atlantic (“It’s Been 951 Days Since the Senate Passed a Major New Law“):

The last time a major new piece of policy legislation passed the U.S. Senate was July 15, 2010.

That’s when the Dodd-Frank financial-reform bill came through the Senate. And it was 951 days ago.

If you’re wondering whether President Obama’s ambitious second-term agenda has a chance to make it through Congress, this little fact might be worth keeping in mind. Pessimistic analyses of the prospects for the Obama agenda have mostly focused on the recalcitrant, GOP-led House of Representatives. But Obama’s problem may actually be with the house of Congress his party controls. House Speaker John Boehner has signaled that he’ll consider proposals that make it through the Democrat-controlled Senate. Based on recent history, that could be a tall order.

Lest you think this is about Republican obstruction of the Democrats’ Senate majority via the filibuster, which requires 60 votes to overcome, that’s only part of the problem. Note that this period of inaction doesn’t quite correlate with the last time Democrats had 60 votes, which was January 2010. And the Senate has actually done plenty of things in the past two years and seven months — the deals that ended the 2011 debt-ceiling fight and the recent “fiscal cliff,” for example, as well as contentious items like the highway bill and the reapproval of the Export-Import Bank.

In other words, the Senate has done big stuff, bipartisan stuff, and controversial stuff. It just hasn’t done anything the president could add to his list of policy accomplishments. For that — the kind of thing a president might talk about in his campaign speeches — it’s been more than two and a half years. (One possible quibble with this argument is the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” arguably a major legacy accomplishment for Obama. Even if you count that — the repeal measure cleared the Senate on December 18, 2010 — it’s still been 795 days.)

Given the interrelated nature of our system, with its separation of powers and checks and balances, it’s hard to pin the blame here. To be sure, Senate Republicans have displayed historical levels of obstructionism.  Mitch McConnell famously declared that making sure Obama didn’t get a second terms was his caucus’ top priority; needless to say, they failed to achieve it. And, certainly, the House Republicans haven’t been eager to help Obama, either.

On the other hand, exactly what is it that the Republicans are obstructing? That is: What major legislation has Obama proposed, fought for, and been thwarted in achieving? Nothing comes  to mind.

Is this because he’s been too busy fighting Republicans on stupid things like the debt ceiling and the sequester? Stupid in the sense that they shouldn’t even be in contention?

Or is it because Obama really doesn’t have a major agenda? Maybe ObamaCare was his last hurrah?

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Console says:

    There’s certainly an agenda. The dream act is the most recent.

  2. Rick Almeida says:

    I tend to think that. all else equal, long waits between major legislation is a feature, not a bug.

  3. mark says:

    Maybe ObamaCare was his last hurrah?

    …that was more than enough for me.

  4. Moosebreath says:

    @Console:

    I’d add cap and trade.

  5. gVOR08 says:

    @Rick Almeida: In normal times, I largely agree. And it would be best if they did nothing major about the deficit for a year or two. However, right now we’re in a fracking recession and it might be nice if they did something useful about jobs. Of course they’re Republicans, so they’re ideologically opposed to doing anything useful about jobs, so we’re back to maybe this really is for the best.

  6. David M says:

    Immigration reform, climate change and tax reform.

    And GOP opposition to the jobs bills has been ongoing.

  7. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    From the article:

    As Republicans love to point out, the Senate also has not passed a budget since April 2009 — it has passed alternative government-funding bills in the interim — and the last Obama-proposed budget plan received exactly zero votes in symbolic votes in both the House and Senate.

    Obama is good at declaring agendas and priorities — how many times has he “pivoted” towards jobs? — but hardly ever expends any effort towards achieving them. And if he isn’t interested in his own agendas and priorities and programs, why should anyone else put in more effort than him?

    It’d be one thing if there was a long list of Obama initiatives that the GOP has actively obstructed, but there really isn’t.

  8. Is this because he’s been too busy fighting Republicans on stupid things like the debt ceiling and the sequester?

    Probably….

    It’s kind of hard to expend energy on the big stuff when we’re too busy arguing about stuff that, as you said, “shouldn’t even be in contention.” Obama can’t even get a Republican Sec of Def past the Republicans in Congress so how’s he going to get his agenda to do any better?

  9. C. Clavin says:

    “…What major legislation has Obama proposed, fought for, and been thwarted in achieving? Nothing comes to mind…”

    I’m just going to assume that was facetious.

  10. gVOR08 says:

    What major legislation has Obama proposed, fought for, and been thwarted in achieving?

    O’s very pragmatic and seems to be a pretty good vote counter. I don’t see him putting up something like cap and trade or tax reform just as a gesture.

  11. @Jenos Idanian #13:

    “how many times has he “pivoted” towards jobs? — but hardly ever expends any effort towards achieving them.”

    Now that I have recovered from the coffee shooting out of my nose……

    What would you have him do about “jobs,” Jenos?

  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Obama is good at declaring agendas and priorities — how many times has he “pivoted” towards jobs? — but hardly ever expends any effort towards achieving them.

    What I find interesting about this point of view is how it ignores the reality of what is happening in the House. Boehner keeps saying he wants to cut cut cut….. And then says it is up to Obama to propose where, and that until he does, Obama is not being “serious.”

  13. Tsar Nicholas says:

    952 Days Since Congress Passed Major Law

    Really? That’s amazing, given that only weeks ago Congress passed a new law that raised taxes on millions of people (including many job creators) and simultaneously codified permanently the Bush tax cuts for many tens upon tens of millions of other people. But also simultaneously allowed payroll taxes to be hiked for everybody who works on payroll in America. Perhaps I’m merely a contrarian, but to me that falls within the definition of a “major law.”

    That aside, unfortunately with this administration and this Senate the damage already was done. Obamacare already is such an unmitigated disaster it boggles the mind. Liberals on the Internet wouldn’t know or care anything about this, but as we speak millions of people throughout the country are being converted from full-time to part-time, having their benefits packages stripped, or being laid off entirely, due specifically to that law. Dodd-Frank also has been a flaming calamity.

    Since we’re on the subject of lengthy time periods here are a few others over which to ruminate:

    – It’s been seven full years (Q1 ’06) since the country posted even one quarter of robust economic growth.

    – It’s been four full years (2008) since we had a federal budget deficit under $1.35 Trillion.

    – It’s been over four years (Nov. 2008; 6.8%) since the national unemployment rate was below 7.0%. It’s also been over four years (Dec. 2008; 7.3%) since the national unemployment rate was below 7.5%. To put that all into perspective back in Nov. 1992 (“it’s the economy, stupid!) the unemployment rate was 7.4%.

    The prospects are grim. Europe West with worse education systems is not a platform from which prosperity can flow.

  14. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb) What would you have him do about “jobs,” Jenos?

    It’s his “pivot,” James/Herb. I’m morbidly curious just what he means by it.

    @C. Clavin: I said “fight,” and I’m still waiting to see what a full effort from Obama looks like. So far, it seems to consist of declaring a program, waiting for everyone to fall in line, then either forgetting about it, whining about it, or just doing what he wants, the law and/or the Constitution be damned.

    So, just what great efforts by Obama have been stymied on, anyway?

  15. gVOR08 says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Absolutely. This is all about Rs wanting to cut Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security without being willing to stand up and say so. And Obama being willing to accept some level of cuts, but wanting Republican fingerprints all over it.

  16. David M says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Obamacare already is such an unmitigated disaster it boggles the mind. Liberals on the Internet wouldn’t know or care anything about this, but as we speak millions of people throughout the country are being converted from full-time to part-time, having their benefits packages stripped, or being laid off entirely, due specifically to that law.

    Link or I call BS. Said link needs to show how things changed after Obamacare had been completely implemented for a while, so useful evidence probably doesn’t exist yet. Also, the link will need to address the fact that those changes were already happening before Obamacare was proposed.

  17. James Joyner says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: The temporary Bush tax cuts and the temporary FICA relief both sunsetted automatically with the New Year. Congress then made most of the Bush tax cuts permanent, restoring the status quo ante. What’s “major” about that?

  18. dude says:

    Ummm… maybe you missed it but Obama spent almost all of 2011/2012 pushing his Jobs ACT. It appears likely he’ll continue pushing it (and it’s varies pieces) thru 2014.

  19. An Interested Party says:

    Link or I call BS.

    Oh please…bull$hit can be called on everything that he writes, whether links are included or not…

  20. @Jenos Idanian #13:

    ” I’m morbidly curious just what he means by it.”

    No you’re not. You heard on the radio this morning that today all good right wing foot soldiers are going to mock Obama over his “pivot to jobs” and now you’re following orders.

    @David M:

    Link or I call BS

    It’s Tsar…..you can just call BS.

  21. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @dude: Let’s see.. would that be the “American Jobs Act,” which Harry Reid put a brake on in the Senate? Just what kind of heroic efforts did Obama undertake to get it passed?

    Oh, he did some speeches for it. But I don’t recall him doing any arm-twisting, any deal-offering, any bargaining, or actually showing that he really wanted it.

  22. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb): By “morbidly curious,” I mean I wonder just what he’d consider good for jobs. Previously we’ve heard that investing billions in doomed “green energy” companies and extending unemployment is good for jobs, and I could use some more good laughs.

    Bastard won’t even give me that.

  23. David M says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Let’s see.. would that be the “American Jobs Act,” which Harry Reid put a brake on in the Senate?

    We know this isn’t true. You know we know it’s not true. Why do you repeatedly post comments like this?

  24. Jenos Idanian #13 says:
  25. David M says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Imagining isn’t the word I’d use, but yes. Senate Democrats and Reid supported the jobs bill, but it was filibustered by the GOP.

  26. David says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: On October 11, the bill was voted on in the Senate where it failed to garner the necessary sixty votes to proceed.

  27. @Jenos Idanian #13: See….this is exactly how I can just skip over assuming bad faith on your part and cut right to just accepting it.

    Previously we’ve heard that investing billions in doomed “green energy” companies and extending unemployment is good for jobs, and I could use some more good laughs.

    While it’s true that the US has invested billions in “green energy” companies, only a handful have failed. I bet you can name one that failed (Solyndra) and none of the 58 companies that are still in business.

    The only thing you’re “morbidly curious” about is that which is mockable, which would be fine if you then didn’t ask us to take you seriously.

  28. Stonetools says:

    So, according to Jenos, the reason Obama hasn’t passed more of his agenda is not because unprecedented Republican obstructionism. Its just because Obama hasn’t tried to push his agenda. I guess if he had tried to push his agenda, the Republicans would have realized he was serious and all hands would have snapped to it.. Gee, thanks for clearing that up!

  29. David M says:

    It’s noteworthy that it’s isses like the sequester and killing the jobs act where Jenos doesn’t care about the truth when he tries to protect the GOP. Making sure the public is misinformed about what’s going on is just as important to the GOP as lowering taxes on the wealthy at this point.

  30. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb): Hmm… Fisker is being sold to the Chinese, who also bought A123. And here’s a whole list of bad Obama investments.

    @Stonetools: Again, I ask, just what has the House obstructed? As James noted, Obama hasn’t exactly given them a lot of targets.

  31. David M says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    That list from Heritage is useless and no one should take them seriously. Post a link from a reputable news organization.

  32. mantis says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Let’s see.. would that be the “American Jobs Act,” which Harry Reid put a brake on in the Senate?

    Reid delayed the vote on that act for two weeks, you lying moron. Republicans filibustered it and a cloture vote in October 2011 failed to break the filibuster. Everyone knows you are a lying little shit when you try to blame the president for what the Republicans do.

    Just what kind of heroic efforts did Obama undertake to get it passed?

    He made a joint-address to Congress in September 2011 and toured the country promoting the bill, and when the Republicans filibustered it, he broke it into separate parts to try to get some of it passed. Of those parts, Republicans filibustered to death the Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Act of 2011 and Rebuild America Jobs Act, and the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act and H.R.674 both passed and became law.

    So tell us, what further efforts do you think the president could have made to get it passed? Try to keep in mind that the executive and legislative are two separate branches, twit.

  33. David says:

    Notice how Jenos doesn’t respond to his Jobs Act claim when it is shown to be utterly false?

  34. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @David M: Sorry, not gonna play that game. You don’t like my source? Find one that disagrees with it. I spot-checked a couple on it at random, and they were dead accurate.

    Solyndra: dead and gone.
    Fisker: Sold to Chinese at bargain price.
    A123: Bankrupt, bought by Chinese.
    Evergreen Solar: Bankrupt, bought by Chinese.
    Beacon Power: Bankrupt.
    SunPower: bought by French.
    Abound Solar: bankrupt.
    Energy Conversion Devices: Bankrupt.
    Azure Dynamics: Bankrupt.
    Range Fuels: bankrupt, liquidated.

    There’s ten. So cram it.

  35. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @David: Heading out now, but Democratic resistance is what forced Obama to break it up into pieces and get some passed, some killed.

  36. David M says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    What’s your point? I see a bunch of companies, but the list don’t mean anything by itself. And acknowledge your multiple lies about the Jobs Act or I’ll assume you’re lying here as well.

  37. mantis says:

    @Jay Tea, who is too much of a coward and must hide behind sockpuppet Jenos Idanian #13:

    Heading out now, but Democratic resistance is what forced Obama to break it up into pieces and get some passed, some killed.

    Liar. They had 51 votes to pass it, but not 60 to break the Republican filibuster.

    And let’s not forget that your first assertion was that Obama did not do enough to pass the bill, and you have apparently abandoned that argument now that it has been shown to be horseshit, and you’ve moved on to blaming Democrats.

    GFY, troll. Your only purpose in life is to lie on the internet. Pathetic.

  38. David says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: And had nothing to do with the fact that at that point in time, the Democrats only had 59 members of their caucus and that the Republican’s filibustered it? Seriously?

  39. mantis says:

    @David:

    And had nothing to do with the fact that at that point in time, the Democrats only had 59 members of their caucus and that the Republican’s filibustered it? Seriously?

    Actually, in 2011 when the American Jobs Act was voted on, Democrats only had 55 members in their caucus. You’re thinking of the 111th Congress.

  40. David says:

    @mantis: Can I blame that on scooping too much snow today?

  41. mantis says:

    @David:

    Can I blame that on scooping too much snow today?

    No, be like Jay Tea/Jenos. Blame it on Obama.

  42. David says:

    @mantis: But that is so trite

  43. David M says:

    @mantis:

    @Jay Tea, who is too much of a coward and must hide behind sockpuppet Jenos Idanian #13:
    Liar. They had 51 votes to pass it, but not 60 to break the Republican filibuster.

    And let’s not forget that your first assertion was that Obama did not do enough to pass the bill, and you have apparently abandoned that argument now that it has been shown to be horseshit, and you’ve moved on to blaming Democrats.

    GFY, troll. Your only purpose in life is to lie on the internet. Pathetic.

    The sad thing is that he could engage in a reasonable discussion but chooses not to. Instead he’s decided to lie about pretty much everything in a failed effort make the GOP look good and the Democratic Party look bad.

  44. @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Sorry, not gonna play that game.

    Dude, you crack me up.

    Earlier I said you were taking marching orders from your radio. You didn’t deny it, but spouted some pablum about “green energy” investments because……I don’t know. You thought it was relevant?

    Later I said you were sooooo concerned about the “green energy” thing that you couldn’t name but one company that failed, and that one only because you heard some guy talking about it on the radio. So what do you do? You Googled it.

    You find some list from the Heritage Foundation and want us to marvel at what an independent thinker you are and how well versed you are on this issue.

    “Not gonna play that game?” Oh, it’s a game alright.

  45. anjin-san says:

    @ Jenos

    Sorry, not gonna play that game.

    Of course not. You are busy playing the “time to humiliate myself in public again” game…

  46. anjin-san says:

    Heading out now

    There be pizza to deliver…

  47. wr says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: “Oh, he did some speeches for it. But I don’t recall him doing any arm-twisting, any deal-offering, any bargaining, or actually showing that he really wanted it. ”

    Because you’re so Big and Important that you’d be in the room if such a thing was happening.

    Oh, wait, I mean because the 7-11 where you work keeps the radio tuned to Rush and Sean.

  48. john personna says:

    “On the other hand, exactly what is it that the Republicans are obstructing?”

    A quick search yields:

    H.R. 12 – Paycheck Fairness Act
    H.R. 448 — Elder Abuse Victims Act
    H.R. 466 – Wounded Veteran Job Security Act
    H.R. 515 – Radioactive Import Deterrence Act
    H.R. 549 — National Bombing Prevention Act
    H.R. 577 – Vision Care for Kids Act
    H.R. 626 – Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act
    H.R. 1029 – Alien Smuggling and Terrorism Prevention Act
    H.R. 1168 — Veterans Retraining Act
    H.R. 1171 – Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program Reauthorization
    H.R. 1293 — Disabled Veterans Home Improvement and Structural Alteration Grant Increase Act
    H.R. 1429 — Stop AIDS in Prison Act
    H.R.5281 — DREAM Act
    S.3985 — Emergency Senior Citizens Relief Act
    S.3816 — Creating American Jobs and Ending Offshoring Act
    S.3369 — A bill to provide for additional disclosure requirements for corporations, labor organizations, Super PACs and other entities
    S.2237 — Small Business Jobs and Tax Relief Act
    S.2343 — Stop the Student Loan Interest Rate Hike Act
    S.1660 — American Jobs Act of 2011
    S.3457 — Veterans Jobs Corps Act

    Now, a cynic might suspect that with “major” you were moving the bar. You were moving it from good governance, and many small and useful bills passed, to some kind of Bliss Bill that delivers nirvana once and for all …

  49. David M says:

    How about campaign finance reform? Pretty sure the Democrats and Obama aren’t the ones holding that up.

  50. An Interested Party says:

    Bastard won’t even give me that.

    It really does burn some people’s britches that Barack Hussein Obama is the President…just imagine how pissed they’ll be when Hillary follows him to the White House…maybe we’ll hear about Vince Foster again…

    Now, a cynic might suspect that with “major” you were moving the bar. You were moving it from good governance, and many small and useful bills passed, to some kind of Bliss Bill that delivers nirvana once and for all …

    Shame on you for proving that the “both sides are guilty” argument is nothing but bullshit…

    How about campaign finance reform?

    Didn’t you know? Anything having to do with campaign finance reform is just denying fat cats their right to “free speech”…

  51. mantis says:

    @An Interested Party:

    maybe we’ll hear about Vince Foster again

    Maybe?

  52. Drew says:

    “It’s been more than two-and-a half years since major legislation made it through the Senate.”

    Nothing says more than “amen,” “hooray” or “please God, let this continue”……….than Dodd-Frank.

  53. An Interested Party says:

    Maybe?

    Obviously I was being facetious with the use of that word…

  54. anjin-san says:

    @ Jenos

    You fled the thread in such a hurry yesterday, you left this pending:

    If the money ain’t there, the money ain’t there. And when we’re spending around a trillion more every year than we take in, then the money ain’t there.

    Still waiting for you to reconcile this statement with your starry-eyed support for Romney’s great white fleet…

  55. grumpy realist says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: So what you’re saying is that Obama is responsible because U.S. companies are too short-sighted to pick up good technology at a cheap price and the Chinese are more long-sighted? A123 was desperately looking for a U.S. purchaser, y’know…..

    Just what colour ARE the cows on your planet, dear?