President Obama touted a series of accomplishments over the six week lame duck session of Congress at a brief White House press conference Wednesday afternoon before he jetted off to Hawaii to join his wife and daughters for the Christmas holiday.
While he paid tribute to bipartisan cooperation over the past few weeks, Obama said his own tenacity was a big part of why he was able to get movement on a number of different issues such as tax rates, gays in the military and a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia.
“One thing I hope people have seen during this lame duck, I am persistent. I am persistent,” he said. “You know, if I believe in something strongly, I stay on it.”
Less than two hours after the Senate approved the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia and adjourned for the year, Obama deemed the lame duck session that began after the Nov. 2 elections “the most productive post-election period we’ve had in decades.”
“And it comes on the heels of the most productive two years that we’ve had in generations,” Obama said, seeking to toss all of the things he did over his first two years — a massive health care overhaul and a financial regulation bill, among other things — on to the momentum train.
The successful outcome of the lame duck session came together largely over the last week, beginning with the passage of a tax deal a week ago that extended current tax rates instead of allowing them to go up, as they were scheduled to do. The deal included a number of other add-ons and extensions, including a smaller increase of the estate tax than was scheduled to take place in 2011.
On Tuesday, the Senate passed a repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, giving Obama a major win to take back to his liberal base.
And in addition to the ratification of the START treaty, the Senate also passed a bill Wednesday that will give $4.3 billion to emergency workers who have suffered health problems as a result of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Republicans say they got their own victories: the defeat last week of a massive $1 trillion budget “omnibus” bill that was full of pork and spending for implementation of the health bill, and the defeat of a law to make it easier for children of illegal immigrants to become U.S. citizens.
The GOP also believes they got the better half of the tax deal, and that getting a two-year extension of tax rates will lead to a debate in 2012 over whether to let top brackets see higher taxes that will favor them.
Obama said the past few weeks showed that Washington is “not doomed to endless gridlock.”
He also showed that he understands that 2011 will have a quite different tone, as a Republican-controlled House takes its place in the Washington power structure and leads the conservative charge for major spending cuts.
“I’m not naive; I know there will be tough fights in the months ahead,” Obama said. “But my hope heading into the new year is that we can continue to heed the message of the American people and hold to a spirit of common purpose in 2011 and beyond.”
Despite his upbeat words, Obama himself looked tired, weary and even solemn at times during the press conference, which took place in a large auditorium inside the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, adjacent to the White House.
First lady Michelle Obama and the couple’s two daughters Malia, 12, and Sasha, 9, left for Hawaii, where Obama grew up, on Saturday. And the president made clear he was eager to join them.
“I know everybody is itching to get out of here and to spend some time with their families. I am, too,” he said.
Obama departed the White House about 90 minutes later. He is expected to return to Washington on or just after New Year’s Day.