Republicans attacked it as a perversion of democracy, and used it as an excuse to continue to vote against Dem priorities. Democrats recognized it as their last chance to accomplish much of anything for the next two years. People in the media mistook it for a Barack Obama renaissance.
Certainly Democrats accomplished more than most people expected they would these last several weeks. But between the victories and the compromises and the defeats, it’s hard to keep track of who came out on top.
Here’s a list of the lame duck’s big winners to help you sort it all out.
1. Barack Obama: The President didn’t get everything he wanted out of the lame duck. Most notably he didn’t get an omnibus spending bill, which would have helped him implement the health care law, and he didn’t get the DREAM act, which remains a top priority for Democrats. But even if you just count the big items — his tax cut plan, START, Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell repeal, and the 9/11 first responders bill — he walked away with a lot.
2. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV): He will soon have a much weaker hand. But for the last weeks of his overwhelming majority, Reid did what, frankly, a lot of his critics had wanted all along. He called bluffs, he lashed out at Republicans, and he seized political advantage just about wherever he could. Most significantly, his hardball decision to force an early vote on a key defense bill gave negotiators the kick in the pants they needed to repeal DADT.
3. Sen Joe Lieberman (I-CT): For the first time in maybe a decade, progressives found it difficult to despise Joe Lieberman. He, along with Reid, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) got all their ducks in a row and repealed DADT by a wide margin. But success was always premised on getting 60 votes in the Senate, and that meant Republican support. Lieberman found a way to get it.
4. Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN): He’s a winner in a very particular sense of the word “winner.” He took on his party leadership over New START, and he crushed them. In fact, by linking arms with Obama and just about every top GOP diplomat still living, Lugar made Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) look like fools. But he also cast a “yes” vote on the DREAM Act, which, while principled, and the right thing to do, will also likely “win” him a primary challenger!
5. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT): Though the Senate’s most progressive member couldn’t actually derail the President’s tax cut compromise and swap it out with something less friendly to the wealthy, Sanders made a name for himself: Filibernie. For 10 straight hours he held the Senate floor, to remind voters and people in the media how deferential the government is to the wealthy. For a brief moment, he stole the spotlight from the White House and even made an implicit point about how the current “real” filibuster has become such a joke.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.