The 111th Congress drew to a close Wednesday night after a final burst of legislative activity provided a capstone to one of the most productive and controversial sessions in history.
After the midterm elections cost Democrats the House, party leaders and the White House pushed hard in the lame-duck session to eke out the last major legislative victories they are likely to see for some time. The House recessed sine die at 6 p.m. Wednesday, with the Senate following suit several hours later. The 112th Congress will begin Jan. 5.
Like much of the rest of the 111th Congress, the final weeks and days ran staff and lawmakers ragged, although they stopped two days shy of last year’s Christmas Eve session, when the Senate passed a health care overhaul.
President Barack Obama singled out the failure of an immigration measure known as the DREAM Act as his biggest disappointment of the lame duck. He said he would continue to push for the bill, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for some children of illegal immigrants if they join the military or go to college.
Both parties had several final victories to take home.
After suffering bruising defeats at the hands of Republicans in fights over extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts and an omnibus spending bill, Democrats finished the lame duck with a string of high-profile legislative wins, including repeal of the military’s ban on openly gay service members, a health care bill for Sept. 11 first responders, ratification of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia, a food safety overhaul and a defense authorization bill.
The push capped the 111th Congress’ historic accomplishments, including a $787 billion stimulus package passed in February 2009, when the Dow Jones industrial average was mired below 8,000, and the sweeping health care and financial regulation overhauls in 2010.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who will soon lose her gavel, said she was proud that Congressional scholars have recognized the 111th Congress as among the most productive in history, noting that major bills, including the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal, were passed at the very end of the session.
“We came here to do a job,” the California Democrat said. “We got much of it done. It all relates to solving problems for America’s families, and we think that the agenda that we passed does just that. We’re very, very proud of it. ... Of course there’s always more to be done, and as long as the American people have a high unemployment rate, as families are looking for jobs, as people have uncertainty about their children’s education, about their own economic security, our work is far from over. So I look forward to working with the new majority to solve the problems for the American people.”
Pelosi wielded her gavel for the last time on the Sept. 11 health care bill, which passed 206-60 with more than a third of the House skipping the Wednesday vote.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.