Six big achievements of a surprisingly 'do something' Congress

The 111th Congress, which adjourned Wednesday, is one of the most productive in US history, its 13 percent approval rating notwithstanding.

2. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

President Obama speaks at a rally celebrating final passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on March 23.

Congress battled for a year to pass health-care reform, which was finally a done deal March 23, 2010. The law mandates that all Americans obtain health insurance coverage, and it sets up entities called health exchanges to provide people with affordable options.

The law gives insurance companies a guaranteed pool of clients across all age brackets – including healthy young people, many of whom currently go without insurance. In exchange, insurance companies must end discrimination based on preexisting health conditions, lifetime caps on coverage, arbitrary termination of coverage, and other practices Congress deemed abusive.

Democrats claimed the bill would cut deficits and create jobs. The House version passed with no votes from Republicans, who disliked mandates on small businesses to provide coverage to employees. The election in January of Republican Sen. Scott Brown to replace the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts meant Democrats no longer had the 60 votes needed to block a filibuster. In the end, Speaker Nancy Pelosi persuaded House Democrats to adopt the Senate version of the bill, unacceptable to many, and then approve “fixes” under a budget procedure that eliminated the possibility of a Senate filibuster.

Many Republicans campaigned in the 2010 midterms to defund and replace health-care reform. The bill that funds government operations through the first part of 2011, passed this week, does not include $1 billion in funding for health-care reform or startup costs for health-care reform that Democrats had sought. House Republicans promise further cuts in the new Congress, when they will have the majority.

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