The Democratic sweep of the Georgia Senate races opens up a whole new set of possibilities for President Joe Biden. If the Republicans had prevailed in these critical races, Mitch McConnell would’ve done everything in his power to sabotage the American people and the Biden Administration in a craven attempt to regain power.
When Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are inaugurated on January 20, they will have razor thin Democratic majorities in both Houses. The majority in the House will be 222 to 211 and 51 to 50 in the Senate. That doesn’t provide much margin for error but it’s a lot better than having a GOP controlled Senate.
The biggest obstacle to progress is the Senate filibuster rule. Unfortunately, most major legislation now requires a super majority of 60 votes. It is doubtful there are 60 votes in the Senate to even order a bathroom break since most GOP Senators are dedicated to all out partisan warfare and sabotage.
President Biden can still get a lot done with 51 Democratic senators. Both judicial and executive branch nominations are exempt from the destructive filibuster rule. Biden will be able to get his cabinet confirmed and begin to undo the damage caused to the federal courts by Trump and McConnell.
What Biden and the Democrats need to do is shoehorn as much consequential legislation as possible into the budget resolution as allowed by the Congress’ arcane budget reconciliation rules. Any budget related legislation can pass in the Senate with 51 votes. President Obama used the reconciliation rules to pass portions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Previous Republican presidents have used these budget rules since 1981 to pass deficit funded tax cuts.
The Democrats can use the budget rules to pass $2,000 relief checks, money for vaccine distribution, a Medicare buy in for all option, more generous ACA subsidies, infrastructure projects, green energy jobs and the repeal of the failed Trump tax cuts for the wealthy. There is a pretty high degree of Democratic consensus on these agenda items.
On the other hand, more far reaching reforms like an expanded Voting Rights Act, the admission of Puerto Rico and D.C. as states, and expanding the federal judiciary could be successfully filibustered. This democratic reform agenda could only pass if the filibuster rule is entirely eliminated. Unfortunately, there are still several Democratic senators who favor maintaining this rule.
What Biden needs to do is flood the zone with a major legislative package and numerous executive orders on day one and on a simultaneous basis. Throw so much at the Republicans at one time that they can’t focus on one major initiative and demonize it.
I have great respect for Presidents Clinton and Obama but they took on one major project at a time. This allowed the Republicans and the “liberal” mainstream press to lie about their agenda and slow it down. For example, Obama first went with the Recovery Act and once that was done, focused on the ACA. This allowed the GOP and the press to focus their attacks for months on one major piece of legislation. That’s why Biden needs to go big.
Another political lesson we should learn from the Clinton and Obama presidencies is just give people money. As Ezra Klein said: “Don’t get too clever with it. Don’t do complicated tax cuts and hard-to-apply-for programs. When people need help, just help them, and trust them to use the money well.”
We can learn something from the Republicans here. In 2001, the Bush Administration sent tax cut checks to every American who qualified. On the other hand, the 2009 Recovery Act reduced tax withholding from peoples’ paychecks because it provided the economy with a bigger boost. However, most people to this very day have no idea that Obama passed the biggest middle class tax cut in history.
This same lesson also applies to health care, too. Ezra Klein tweeted: “Just give people health care! Don’t take what they have away. Open Medicare to anyone over 50. Create a public option with Medicare pricing-power that’s free for those who need it and available to all, including employers.”
Once again we can learn something from the Obama Administration. The ACA has now become a popular and durable reform but the Democrats made a political mistake in 2010 by delaying the implementation of most of the benefits until after the 2012 elections due to deficit concerns.
Another lesson Democrats can learn from the Clinton and Obama presidencies is don’t make deficit reduction a priority. Now that we have a Democratic president, the Republicans will suddenly pretend to “care” about the deficit and spending again.
In 2012, Nobel Prize winning Paul Krugman succinctly and presciently summarized GOP fiscal policy as follows: “The Bush experience tells us something important about fiscal policy: namely, that when Democrats get obsessed with deficit reduction, all they do is provide a pot of money that Republicans will squander on more tax breaks for the wealthy as soon as they get a chance.” He also wrote the same year: “The modern American right doesn’t care about deficits, and never did. All that talk about debt was just an excuse for attacking Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and food stamps.”
I’m excited about the prospect of another Democratic president. I believe that Joe Biden has the potential to be a consequential president. What we need to do as activists is defend his policies on social media to counter act the built in Republican advantage on social media and the right wing media.
We can’t count on the “liberal” mainstream media to accurately and fairly describe Biden’s proposals. The mainstream press fell for every dishonest Republican talking point in the book when the Democrats controlled the White House and the Congress in 1993–94 and 2009–10. We can’t let them and the Republicans get away with it again.
We won a big victory in 2020 by knocking off Trump and McConnell but our work isn’t done. We simply can’t afford to take a day off. We must remain united and continue to work for Democratic candidates. There are important city elections in Omaha and Lincoln in 2021. If we get a good result in these contests, we will lay the foundation for more success in 2022. Let’s get it done!