With the passage of Dodd-Frank, we can say again that the current Congress is going to go down in the books as amazingly productive, one of the the truly historic Congresses. Granted, all that took was health care reform: when you work on something for sixty years (give or take a few decades), getting it done is going to be a big deal. Regardless, there's now another one for Obama's (and Reid's, and Pelosi's) trophy case.
I've talked about this before, but it's important to remember that most of the bills that have passed, this one included, isn't just a "bill" in the way that you probably think of these things if you, say, have done a model Congress simulation in school. What passed today, just like health care reform and like the stimulus bill last year, was omnibus legislation: one big bill made up of a whole bunch of other bills, some big, some small. Matt Ygelsias has a good rundown on some of the major things, but he's not trying to be comprehensive. In other words, there were a number of things that, had they been brought up on their own, would have been major bills, with significant fights. In fact, my guess is that someone could easily do a year's worth of weekly pieces about the various "minor" provisions in these bills that will have significant effects on people's lives, whether it's Race to the Top in the stimulus bill, coverage for contraceptives in the ACA, or ratings agency regulation in Dodd-Frank. In other words, I don't think anyone, really, has a good sense of exactly how much this Congress got done.
Of course, we also don't know how the accomplishments of this Congress will look in, say, fifty years. I'm pretty confident that health care reform (taken as a whole) will be thought of as a pretty big deal. Beyond that, we don't know...will Dodd-Frank be seen as successful, or as nibbling around the edges? Will historians talk about the stimulus package that prevented a Depression, or the failure of Congress to follow up with a major jobs bill? Will liberals, fifty years from now, complain about how nothing ever gets done in Congress and why can't the Democrats get their act together like they used to back in 2009-2010? Or will they focus more, as many do now, on the ones that got away?
I'm going to tentatively disagree with Kevin Drum and others, however, who believe that this is the end of the line for Democratic legislative accomplishments. I think it's just too early to tell. I'll remind everyone, also, that Republican Congresses passed S-CHIP, and raised the minimum wage, while Bill Clinton was president. If that's the case, then it seems at least plausible that a divided Congress next year (or one held by the Democrats with smaller majorities) could pass some of the items on the Obama agenda. After the last two years, everyone is used to a Congress in which the people who matter are Ben Nelson, Olympia Snowe, and Susan Collins. It may turn out that in the next Congress, the key players will be somewhat to the right of that group...but still a good bit to the left of the purely rejectionist crowd. It's hard to predict, going in, the results, especially before seeing where the votes are. Complete gridlock is certainly one solid possibility, but so is a productive Congress passing somewhat more conservative legislation. Or a productive Congress in which left and right cut deals to move items important to each.
It is, by the way, entirely strange that the 111th Congress has done everything that it's done and still can't manage to do fairly routine things such as extending unemployment benefits and passing a budget. Still, I wouldn't entirely rule out the possibility of some sort of energy/climate bill passing in the current Congress. So far, no one is getting rich betting against the 111th Congress on the big things.