Since it looks as if Congress is just about to finish up for the year, for the session, and for the 111th Congress, I figured I should say something about my previous position that it was important for Harry Reid to keep the Senate in as long as possible, in order to finish up its business and prevent Republicans from running out the clock.
You might think that I'm about to condemn Reid for quitting now -- but I'm not sure that I should. The problem is that once Reid (quite properly) threatened to hold the Senate in for a post-Christmas session, he then began to get results. A bunch of judges, for example, were confirmed this week and last. What we don't know, at least from the reporting I've seen so far, is to what extent Republicans dropped stalling tactics that they could have employed in exchange for finishing up now. In other words, it could be that Reid successfully bargained for whatever he could get from the lame duck session, and that part of the deal was that once everyone agreed on what would pass if they stayed in to the bitter end, then they all agreed to expedite that business.
That said...the Democrats are, and quite properly, congratulating themselves on a very successful Congress, but there really are a couple of major setbacks for the Democrats here at the end of the session. One is their failure to pass appropriations bills for the current fiscal year. Ezra Klein has done some terrific blogging about that...see for example here. The one thing I'd add to what he's been saying is that this was only an omnibus spending bill because the Democrats failed to pass individual appropriations bills, and that even in the lame duck session -- even now, in fact, if they wanted to and had the votes -- the Democrats could still pass one or two regular appropriations bills. Perhaps this is just a case in which they never did have the votes, but I'm really not convinced that they tried very hard.
The second one, familiar to regular readers, is nominations. Peter Diamond is still waiting to be confirmed to his seat on the Fed. Lots of judges are still waiting to be confirmed, including, as far as I can tell, quite a few who do not appear to be controversial -- and as I've said in the past, it's very possible that even the controversial appointees have 60 votes (not to mention the simple majority needed to confirm, but that's another story, of course). And then there are the executive branch appointments, many have been cleared, but there are still plenty of them in the Senate's Executive Calendar. Now, again, I can't say whether more could have been done had the Senate stayed in longer, because I don't know what deals were made. But overall, it's pretty clear that confirming nominations has never been a priority for the Obama Administration or the Senate.
I'm sure I'll have something more to say later about the historic 111th, but it's hard to believe that they couldn't have made more progress in those two areas.