However history judges the 535 men and women in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate the past two years, one thing is certain: The 111th Congress made more law affecting more Americans since the “Great Society” legislation of the 1960s.
For the first time since President Theodore Roosevelt began the quest for a national health-care system more than 100 years ago, the Democrat-led House and Senate took the biggest step toward achieving that goal by giving 32 million Americans access to insurance. Congress rewrote the rules for Wall Street in the most comprehensive way since the Great Depression. It spent more than $1.67 trillion to revive an economy on the verge of a depression, including tax cuts for most Americans, jobs for more than 3 million, construction of roads and bridges and investment in alternative energy; ended an almost two-decade ban against openly gay men and women serving in the military, and is poised today to ratify a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia.
For all of its ambitious achievement, the 111th Congress, which may adjourn this week, also witnessed a voter-backlash driven by a 9.6-percent unemployment rate that cost Democrats control of the House and diminished their Senate majority.
“This is probably the most productive session of Congress since at least the ‘60s,” said Alan Brinkley, a historian at New York’s Columbia University. “It’s all the more impressive given how polarized the Congress has been.”