From the Weekly Sift, a nice summary of that period in the first Obama term when he had majorities in both houses of Congress... why didn't more get done then?
Those who criticize how little got done during Obama’s first two years not only underestimate how much accomplishment there was, they also usually overestimate the amount of time Obama was free from Republican obstruction.As a Minnesotan, I well recall how long it took for Al Franken to get seated, though the Kennedy details are a bit fuzzier in my memory. That last point — that Scott Brown's win in Massachusetts was a surprise and no one realized how little time they had — is something I hadn't thought of. And not only is September 24 to February 4 a fairly short time to start with, but remember a fair amount of it would have been spent in holiday recesses, too. Six or seven weeks of sessions, maybe.
Al Franken’s election in Minnesota was close enough that Republicans managed to drag a series of vote-counting challenges through the courts. Early on, they might really have thought they could get the outcome reversed, but eventually delay became its own goal: They kept Franken from taking his seat in the Senate until July 7, 2009.
By then, Ted Kennedy was in the final stages of the cancer that killed him on August 25. (Already by July 9, it was headline news when he came to the Senate to cast a vote. No 60-vote plan could rely on pulling him off his deathbed.) Another legal challenge prevented Kennedy’s temporary replacement, Paul Kirk, from taking office until September 24. And then in the special election on January 19, 2010, Republican Scott Brown won a surprise victory, taking his seat February 4.
So effectively, Obama had a filibuster-proof Democratic Senate majority for slightly more than four months. Since it ended by surprise, no one realized that everything had to be passed at once.