The Oklahoman: GOP accomplishments in Congress are worth noting

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UNDER Republican control of Congress, lawmakers have advanced modest but sensible proposals that were previously stymied under Democratic control. Yet many conservative activists decry this as a do-nothing Congress.

That conservatives hoped for more from a Republican Congress is understandable. But expectations must be tempered by political reality. So long as Barack Obama is president, progress on the nation's most pressing challenges will be exceedingly difficult. Many national policy failures originated with Obama, and he remains committed to preserving those mistakes regardless of the consequences to citizens.

Nonetheless, this Congress has been far more productive than its predecessors. Admittedly, that bar was set low given the severe dysfunction under Democratic control. Consider this: There were more votes cast in the U.S. Senate during the first two months of this year's session than in the last two years under the leadership of Democratic Sen. Harry Reid.

And lawmakers have done more than simply vote. For the first time since 2009, the House and Senate have both passed a budget plan with those proposals outlining a gradual path to a balanced budget. Appropriations bills have advanced from committees on schedule.

Such accomplishments are more procedural than substantive, but represent progress and lay the groundwork for improved budget planning.

More significant measures also have advanced. Legislation authorizing construction of the Keystone pipeline was sent to the president's desk (Obama vetoed it). A major trade promotion act was approved, opening the door for consideration of free-trade agreements in the Pacific region. Rewrites of the federal No Child Left Behind education law have advanced (a process Democrats delayed for eight years). An effort to target human traffickers has advanced.

Under the leadership of Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, bipartisan agreement is forming to significantly revise the Toxic Substances Control Act for the first time since its 1976 enactment, which could restrain the power of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Those are all goals conservatives broadly support. Virtually none would have advanced under Democratic leadership.

“This has been a much more successful session of Congress than most people recognize,” Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, told The Oklahoman editorial board. “It's passed more legislation, done more significant things, and operated more efficiently.”

Still, conservatives hoped for more, understandably so. With full control of Congress, many expected Obama would be forced to at least veto more bills, including repeal of unpopular Obamacare provisions. Many expected Obamacare's tax on medical devices to be quickly repealed, partly because many Democrats are on record opposing it. That hasn't happened — yet.

Inhofe says there are strategic reasons to delay some votes, noting Democrats will face greater pressure (and may therefore be more likely) to support repeal of the medical device tax in an election year.

But even if congressional Republicans are ultimately able to overcome Obama vetoes on select issues, those victories will be limited in scope.

Obama successfully advanced much of his agenda because his party held the presidency and supermajority control of Congress in 2009 and 2010. Until Republicans hold similar leverage, the effort to roll back the worst abuses of the Obama regime will be a slow, plodding process.

Conservative voters need to brace themselves for a long, drawn-out fight — and keep up the pressure on Congress, not throw up their hands and declare there's no difference between the parties.