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The Year in Washington: Key Moments from a Do-Nothing Congress

We look at the action and inaction this year's shamefully combative Congress.


The 112th Congress stormed in amid a devastating recession, an Obama hangover, and an increasingly strong movement called the Tea Party. Republicans reclaimed the House from the Democrats, who barely held onto a majority in the Senate. Since then, it's been a game of pulling congressional teeth in a year that will likely go down as one of the most divided and unproductive in history. What got done in 2011? The better question is what didn't get done. Congress passed fewer bills this year than they did in the last 10 non-election years, and President Obama signed fewer of them than any president in the last two decades. Here, some key moments from 2011's do-nothing Congress:

1. A government shutdown loomed. One of the most infuriating congressional episodes came in April, when a battle raged over how best to cut America's budget. Forget the fact that making deep cuts backfires during economic downturns, or that Planned Parenthood, which was held hostage by the GOP during the negotiations, has very little to do with our ballooning debt. Republicans and Democrats just couldn't agree. At the 11th hour, 800,000 government employees were spared a pay furlough when Congress passed a one-week budget as a bridge to permanent legislation. But the damage to the nation's confidence in its Congress had been done.

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Help the Sunlight Foundation Identify All These Lobbyists

The Sunlight Foundation turned the cameras around to take pictures of all the power brokers who show up to Senate hearings. Recognize anyone?

Do you have a phone? If so, you may be interested in the news that AT&T wants to acquire T-Mobile for $39 billion in cash and stock. If the merger goes through, we'll be down to three national phone companies: AT&T, Verizon and Sprint. That means less competition and, as Om Malik recently wrote, "net-net, U.S. consumers are going to lose."

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The Food Gods Speak: Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser Dish About Walmart, National Security, and Chicken Nuggets

When Pollan last ate a chicken nugget, whether Schlosser thinks that Walmart's new healthy food initiatives are for real, and what you and I can do.

Last week, food movement legends Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food) and Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) sat down together with Evan Kleiman, host of KCRW's Good Food, for a fascinating conversation that covered all of the major food stories of the past few months. For those of you who couldn't make it in person, but want to know when Pollan last ate a chicken nugget, whether Schlosser thinks that Walmart's new healthy food initiatives are for real, and what they think are the most important things you and I can do to make a difference right now, here's my recap of the highlights.

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DREAM Act Delayed After House Passage. Will Senate Reciprocate?

The Senate just voted to table debate on the DREAM Act until early next week. Will it get the 60 votes needed for passage?

The DREAM Act's fate is delayed yet again.

While the bill was expected to be voted upon by the Senate earlier this morning, legislators just voted to table discussion until next early week, with supporters fearing that Democratic leadership will fall short of the 60 votes needed for passage.

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Infographic: Your Congressman Is Old

See just how old our oldest Congress ever is.

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Ninety-five percent of the time, the plenaries and contact groups and informal meetings in the UNFCCC process are mind numbingly boring. But occasionally, there's a moment to remember.Such was the case on Saturday morning, as Ian Fry, lead negotiator for the tiny island nation of Tuvalu (remember them?) called out the U.S. Senate and President Obama directly (not common practice) in an emotional plea.

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