Six big achievements of a surprisingly 'do something' Congress

The outgoing 111th Congress is among the most productive in history, in spite of its reputation for gridlock and 13 percent approval rating. Democrats controlled the House and the Senate, and used their large majorities to push through landmark legislation with barely any GOP support.

The post-election lame-duck session – typically a mopping-up operation to get out of town – also made history, passing key pieces of legislation, often with greater input from Republicans than had earlier been the case. People can argue the merits of what Congress did, but it’s hard to quibble with the scope of the undertaking. Here are six of this Congress’s major accomplishments, in the order in which they were approved.

1. American Recovery & Reinvestment Act

Rick Wilking/Reuters
A sign announces a section of road work funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, outside Denver.

The $819 billion economic stimulus package, signed into law February 2009 less than a month after Barack Obama became president, is the largest stand-alone spending bill in US history. It included tax cuts, as well as new spending for public works, education, clean energy, technology, and health care.

House Republicans united to oppose the bill, which they dubbed a job killer because it added to an unsustainable national deficit. Three centrist Republicans joined Democrats to break a filibuster in the Senate.

The stimulus bill would become campaign grist for tea party opponents, who said it focused on saving public-sector jobs, rather than stimulating private-sector job creation, and did not “create or save” 3.5 million jobs in two years, as the White House had promised.

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