No time to rest on (incomplete) laurels

NO TIME TO REST ON (INCOMPLETE) LAURELS…. As things stand, the Senate will apparently tackle climate change in the spring. National Journal reports on some members who aren’t in any hurry.

“After you do one really, really big, really, really hard thing that makes everybody mad, I don’t think anybody’s excited about doing another really, really big thing that’s really, really hard that makes everybody mad,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said. “Climate fits that category.”

Now, I don’t want to sound unsympathetic. After eight years of failure, incompetence, mismanagement, and corruption, Congress’ to-do list is pretty full — including tackling issues that went neglected under Republican rule and putting out fires that began under Republican rule.

But this attitude of “one big thing is enough” fails to appreciate the scope of the challenges facing federal lawmakers, and the rare opportunity the Democratic majority has to put things right. I’m reminded of this recent column from Harold Meyerson, who noted that we’re witnessing the third generational opportunity for progressive policy change of the last century.

The first time around, in 1933, Franklin Roosevelt and Congress had enacted the landmark legislation of the First Hundred Days — depositor insurance, emergency relief, industrial stabilization, public employment (the Civilian Conservation Corps). The second time around, in 1965, Lyndon Johnson and Congress had created the Great Society, passing more than 80 bills, among them Medicare, the Voting Rights Act and federal aid to education, in six months.

And the third time around, before health care reform has even cleared the first procedural hurdle, there’s a sense among some that other “really, really big things” will have to wait for some other time, maybe even some other Congress.

I wish it were that easy. Democrats were elected to clean up some unprecedented failures of historic magnitude, not tackle a few issues and call it a day.

There’s less than a year left in this Congress, at which point the Democratic majority is very likely to shrink. In terms of “really, really big things” that need to get done, Congress should have a strategy to at least pass a jobs bill, a climate bill, and financial regulatory reform.

The more success it has, the more impressed the public will be, and the more motivated the base will be. Not incidentally, these bills carry enormous public policy significance, and this may be the last good shot policymakers have at tackling these issues for a long while.

Buck up, Sen. McCaskill, there’s work to be done.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.