With Joe Biden safely ensconced in the Oval Office and – perhaps more importantly – Kamala Harris in the role of Senate president and tiebreaker, it will soon be full steam ahead for the Democrats who need to achieve as much of their agenda as possible before the midterms. Especially in the first 100 days of the Biden administration. But with multiple factions demanding different actions, what exactly is the ruling party’s agenda?
The Discordant Democrats
Though the Democrats control majorities in both chambers of Congress, they won’t get much accomplished without working together. Their advantage in the House is somewhat less comfortable than it was during the 116th, and their “lead” in the Senate is razor-thin, existing only by virtue of the (D) after the VP’s name.
The progressives want an impeachment trial now, an end to the legislative filibuster now, and grand, sweeping legislation on issues like equality and climate change – you guessed it – now.
On the other hand, the establishment is less inclined to rush headlong into dismantling the status quo, as they understand that what they do today can be done to them when the GOP eventually rises once again. More mainstream Democrats want President Biden to have a chance to get some nominations confirmed before the impeachment trial locks down the legislative process. On the issue of nuking the filibuster, several Democrats have implied they’re against it. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) explicitly vowed not to support such action.
If the Democrats can work together in the House, they should have no trouble passing whatever bills they like on to the Senate. But with a 60-vote majority needed to break any filibuster in the upper chamber, the Democrats can’t just work together – they must also win over ten Republicans. Of course, suppose they take the so-called nuclear option and change the rules so that a simple majority can end a discussion and force a vote. In that case, they’ll have more leverage – but it would take every Democrat and Independent signing on to such an action, and, at the moment, that doesn’t appear to be on the table.
Senate leadership – Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) – need to come to an agreement on how the various committees will be apportioned, amongst other things, and McConnell is pushing for Schumer to promise not to nuke the filibuster. Schumer, so far, has not agreed. This negotiation alone might keep the legislative process locked down for a while – and then they’ll have confirmations and an impeachment trial to clear before they can move on to much else. Unless, that is, McConnell agrees to allow the Senate workday to be split in half, devoting part to the impeachment trial and the rest to confirmations and legislation. He may well make such a concession if it means protecting the filibuster.
COVID Care and Confirmations
The first thing Congress is likely to focus on is coronavirus spending. This is a well of public approval from which both sides can drink now that Biden is the president who will get credit for it rather than Trump. Next on the list would likely be confirming the new president’s nominations. This only requires a simple majority, thanks to former Sen. Harry Reid. The Nevada Democrat dropped the first filibuster nuke as Senate majority leader when the Democrats last held the Senate under President Obama, removing the necessity of a supermajority to confirm executive and judicial appointments up to but not including the Supreme Court.
That nuke was once again dropped in 2017, shortly after the Senate and the White House changed hands, and the GOP wanted to get Trump’s nominee, Neil Gorsuch, on the Supreme Court. Though Democrats don’t need any Republican support to confirm Biden’s picks, the degree to which the GOP plays ball may well contribute to whether they blast the final filibuster.
The Progressive Panoply
From the bills introduced in the previous Congress to the politicians’ campaign promises now in power, it’s clear a panoply of progressive legislation is on the way. The GOP will almost certainly balk at these sweeping “reforms.” If matters become heated enough to unify even the more reluctant Democrats behind the push, it may mean the end of the filibuster. That would mean the end of Republicans being able to stop even the most extreme bills from becoming law.
One major agenda item revealed by the Biden campaign shortly before the election was a plan to “end our gun violence epidemic.” This cornucopia of gun control has only been foreshadowed by the half dozen or so relevant bills introduced to the House – but make no mistake; the rest of these measures are coming.
Also likely to rear its head once again is the Equality Act – or something like it. Democrats failed to make this dream a reality under a GOP majority in the Senate and Trump in the White House.
Biden also made it clear that he wants Congress to grant citizenship to the estimated 11 million illegal aliens currently living in the United States. Don’t be surprised when more radical open borders policies and the Green New Deal make their way to the Capitol once again.
A Delicate Dance
Biden and congressional Democrats will be looking to achieve as much as possible in the first 100 days of the administration in hopes that a side-by-side comparison will show Biden to be at least as successful as Trump. Beyond that, they need to accomplish the biggest and most radical of their goals before the midterm elections in 2022, when history suggests they’ll lose the trifecta of power.
So while Republicans in the Senate have a little leverage, deciding when to wield it will be a delicate dance between getting what they want and pushing the Democrats over the edge of legislative nuclear war. Will they be able to stave it off long enough to regain control of at least one chamber of Congress? Perhaps more importantly, what will they have to give up?
Read more from James Fite.