During Congress’ recent lame-duck session something extraordinary happened; important legislation was actually passed and put into effect. To clarify, Merriam-Webster defines Ïlame-duckÓ as an elected group continuing in office during the period between failure to win an election and the inauguration of the successor. This was the case for the former Democratic-controlled House of Representatives that lost its majority in the November elections. These Ïlame-duckÓ sessions are generally unproductive, which is why the few that are productive gain so much attention.

What makes this Ïlame-duckÓ session unique is major legislation was actually passed, most of it due to the co-operation and negotiation between both parties. To start, Republican leadership negotiated with President Barack Obama in order to resolve two outstanding pieces of legislation. On one side, the Republicans were able to extend the Bush tax-cuts for two years. On the other, the Democrats got a year-long continuation of unemployment benefits for laid-off workers, among other pieces of employment legislation designed to help those who have lost their job or otherwise affected by the financial crisis. Along with this, President Obama was able to ratify the New START Treaty, or the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which is an arms control agreement between Russia and the United States. This treaty, which entails both sides agree to limit their weapons to 1,500 warheads, is a follow up to the original START treaty signed in 1991 and again in 2002. The ratification of this treaty was a key part of Obama’s foreign policy agenda. Instead of being a no-brainer to the nation indebted to their service, funding for the healthcare of 9/11 first responders was also renewed, despite initial and continued Republican resistance.

But the social legislation that probably made the biggest headlines was the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which barred individuals who were openly gay, lesbian or bisexual from military service. I believe this is a big step for our country as whole, which has been far behind many of our European allies on this decision.

Does this represent a new wave of co-operation in Washington? Unfortunately, I think this is unlikely. During their first month with a majority hold over the House, Republicans have already passed through a repeal of the Health Care Reform Act. Called the ÏRepealing the Job-Killing Healthcare Law Act,Ó it was passed almost completely along party lines. The very name of the legislation has caused weeks of debate on national television, whose stances on the matter depend on which station you are watching. Harry Reid has already stated that repealing the bill will not be put on the Senate docket, so it poses no threat of actually being passed. However, with the actions taken by both parties so early in the year, the hope of our government representatives working over party lines to pass legislation has all but vanished. With the advent of the new Tea Party members who were elected into office, it is hard to say what the stance of the Republican Party will be as a whole. What can be said is that the way Congress works has changed, either for better or for worse.

Bill Burkhart is Business Assistant for the Voice. He can be reached for comment at BBurkhart13@wooster.edu.