It was heartening and amazing to see the Lame Duck congress pass a comprehensive tax program for the next year (however compromised by economically unnecessary but politically necessary giveaways), repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and pass the New Start treaty. After the goddamnest biggest case of legislative constipation anyone can remember. Everyone is asking, why should this be? Lame ducks are usually the weakest legislative animal in the barnyard.
I don’t know either, since I’m not close to the situation, but I do have some thoughts.
Most important has to be the Obama shellacking. Since the Republicans had gotten scorched two elections in a row previously, this evened the score, and the Republicans could now let things go through without seeming weak. They had just won, they had their honor back, so they could compromise from a position of seeming equality. Politically, their Just Say No strategy had won them the election, so there was little to gain by continuing. By the next election no one will remember the Lame Duck much, and a new electoral strategy will be in place.
And besides, both DADT repeal and New Start were not only popular with the public, but the military were strongly behind both, every past Republican Secretary of State and Dick Lugar were strongly behind New Start, so get it out of the way! Get your own new start.
Kyl and the Turtle (McConnell) had got themselves caught out there on the wing, playing the old game, so for them it was best just to vote as if they still believed what they had said (which they couldn’t have, really), and again, get it out of the way.
I wonder, however, if there isn’t something else happening, and some Republican sensibleness now coming down the pike. There might be a generational split developing in the Senate, as revealed by the current maneuvering to redo the rules in the next Senate – make the filibuster a talking filibuster, reform the initial motion to proceed to discuss legislation, and the placement of secret holds. The younger group (see Tom Udall) wants reform – they want action in the Senate. The leadership on both sides would lose some of their power with these reforms, and so are reluctant to proceed. But the Senate as a body is held in derision by the country as a whole at this point, so even the leadership must be sensitive to that, and maybe there will be some reform.
What about the upcoming term – more like the last term, or more like the Lame Duck? I’m an outsider, so I don’t know, but I suspect that Obama has spent two years learning hard lessons, and he will come back more aggressive, more teaching the country and less making a few lofty speeches that open him to charges of elitism and arrogance. I also think that Just Say No will not be much of a strategy from here on in. So, my prediction would be that there will be action. The President proposes and the Congress disposes. Success will depend on what is proposed. We’ll just have to see.