WASHINGTON — In the middle of a House debate, Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky handed the woman in charge of the rules a paper bag. Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., peered inside, saw the bottle of Maker's Mark bourbon and laughed.
Indeed, a shot of something strong might help make sense of a prolific Congress that seemed to break the rules of political physics. Democrats were punished by voters for a long list of accomplishments, then rallied with a post-election session that was anything but lame.
Among the lessons of 2010: Being the opposite of a "do-nothing Congress" can produce just as much loathing and election losses for the party in control of government. And bipartisanship in President Obama's Washington is possible, if fleeting.
Among the fiercest fights in the upcoming Congress will be over the fate of Obama's signature, but deeply unpopular, health care overhaul that passed in March and proved a major factor in the Democrats' midterm rout. Republicans have vowed to try denying funds for parts of the nearly $1 trillion overhaul.
Long before the 112th Congress opens in January, Washington's fiscal experts began girding for battle over reining in federal spending and the deficit.
Election politics in what essentially is a two-year campaign season will steer congressional business from the get-go.
With those battles to come, Democrats in their final days of power adjourned the 111th Congress on Wednesday night atop what historians say is the biggest collection of sweeping new laws in nearly half a century.
It may have felt like gridlock for the fierce posturing and name-calling. But not since the civil rights movement and the difficult birth of taxpayer-supported health care for the elderly and poor have government leaders made so many big changes — love them or hate them — so quickly.