Chastened, unpopular Congress rallies in lame duck

By Laurie Kellman

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Dec. 23 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

The bipartisanship, however, was more evident in the Senate.

At Obama's direction, Vice President Joe Biden negotiated a deal with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell on extending tax cuts for all Americans — a Republican priority — along with significant federal help for the unemployed.

Giving struggling voters an $858 billion Christmas gift was a political no-brainer. But the compromise produced a deal and a visual that would have been hard to imagine only a few weeks earlier.

A stern-faced McConnell was at Obama's elbow as the president signed the tax cut deal into law. Absent were the leaders of Obama's own party — Pelosi and Reid — as well as the gleeful exhortations of bill signings-past.

"I wasn't going to go to my caucus and tell them that I was part of a deal that we were giving tax cuts to people making more than $1 million a year," Reid said this week, adding that he had excused himself from the negotiations.

On Dec. 18, the Senate joined the House in voting to repeal the military's "don't ask-don't tell" policy against openly gay personnel. The repeal pleased liberals who had been left on the sidelines with the tax cut deal, and it won support among rank-and-file Republicans.

And finally, the Senate on Wednesday ratified the New START nuclear arms treaty with Russia, 71-26. This time, McConnell and his second-in-command, Republican Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona, were left out of the deal-making as Obama, Reid and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., negotiated with like-minded Republicans.

There were also some failures in the Democrats' last days of congressional control.

Obama and Reid both chafed at the Republicans' defeat of the DREAM Act, legislation that would have provided a path to citizenship for millions of young illegal immigrants. And McConnell persuaded enough Republicans to block a $1.3 trillion spending bill filled with home-state pet projects for lawmakers. In its place, Congress approved just enough money to keep the government running until March, when Republicans say they'll start slashing spending.

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