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Senate gridlock could keep Biden from satisfying liberals

Senate gridlock could keep Biden from satisfying liberals

by Naomi Lim | Washington Examiner  |  Published on November 23, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden hoped to model his administration on Franklin Roosevelt’s, pushing through New Deal-esque legislation and signing a raft of executive orders during his first 100 days in office.

But then, Democrats failed to flip the Senate, at least so far.

Depending on the two Jan. 5 Georgia runoffs, Biden’s agenda could be blocked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a GOP-controlled chamber.

While conservatives will rejoice, having feared an onslaught of liberal bills and regulations, far-left Democrats will have the opposite reaction.

Biden bragged about his broad coalition that helped him win the Nov. 3 election. But his spectrum of supporters, ranging from far-left activists to disaffected Republicans, won’t make it easy for him to govern. With diverse policy interests and priorities, he’ll no longer have an anti-President Trump sentiment to bind them all together.

Bill Dauster, a chief of staff to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, agreed the liberal Democratic agenda hinges on the Georgia races. Otherwise, the Senate will remain a place where good ideas go to die, he said.

“Legislation like strengthening voting rights, expanding healthcare coverage, combating climate change, gun background checks, raising the minimum wage, universal pre-K, campaign finance reform, paid family leave, D.C. statehood, protecting workplace democracy and unions, and police reform will stand little chance if Sen. McConnell continues to lead the Senate,” Dauster told the Washington Examiner.

But Dauster, a Senate, White House, and campaign veteran, believed liberal Democrats understood the predicament. Instead, they’ll pressure Biden to act via executive fiat, a strategy he maligned as a presidential candidate and nominee, and administrative rule-making.

“Some progressives will want to try to shame Republicans into addressing some of the larger social issues facing our country legislatively, but I don’t expect that they’ll succeed,” he said.

Dauster suggested common ground may be found regarding a coronavirus package, investments in infrastructure, higher education, rural broadband, and community health centers, as well as extending the Child Tax Credit and “restoring the former consensus on national defense.”

“These don’t add up to a bold progressive agenda, but they’re not nothing,” he said.

John Pitney, a Claremont McKenna College politics professor and former House Republican Research Committee aide, reminded the Washington Examiner Biden had already promised to take executive action on immigration, including reinstating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and overturning Trump’s so-called Muslim travel ban.

“He will surely rejoin the Paris climate accords and the World Health Organization,” Pitney said of Biden.

But after coronavirus-related initiatives, whether it’s concerning vaccine distribution or economic stimulus, Pitney suspected bipartisanship would get “tougher.” He singled out nixing Trump’s tax cuts or introducing anything resembling the “Green New Deal” as pipe dreams.

“If the Supreme Court rules the Affordable Care Act to be unconstitutional, he will try to fix the problems by statute. Most Republicans will resist. At that point, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins will be his new best friends,” he said of Biden and the Republican senators from Alaska and Maine, respectively.

Even after the pandemic subsides, lawmakers will remember “the federal debt is north of 100% of GDP and that Social Security is running out of money,” Pitney predicted, using the acronym for gross domestic product.

“Then the real fun begins,” he quipped.

Biden will be the first president since George H.W. Bush to be sworn in without a united government, according to Thad Kousser, a University of California San Diego politics professor.

“Everyone’s come in with a chance to move on their mandate. Joe Biden won a clear Electoral College and popular vote mandate but very likely won’t have the votes in the Senate,” the political consultant said.

Although Biden’s predecessors were able to ram proposals through Congress, they were met with contempt in their first midterm cycle.

“The silver lining on the cloud of his party’s poor performance in the House and Senate races is that Joe Biden’s not the one who’s going to have to say no to progressives,” Kousser said. “Progressives will be disappointed and maybe disenchanted without seeing a major policy change, but I think the blame will be focused rightly if that happens on Mitch McConnell, not Joe Biden.”

Of the internal party politics, he added, “Having the power and having the votes in the Senate then provides great responsibility. Joe Biden doesn’t have that power, but he doesn’t have the responsibility.”

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