Divided Senate Puts Joe Biden’s Legislative Agenda on Razor’s Edge

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President-elect Joe Biden will soon seek to enact his legislative agenda despite facing a split Senate majority.

Although Georgia Senate Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock won the January runoffs, Democrats still do not technically control the Senate majority.

As of January 3, when the 117th Congress was sworn in, 51 Republicans, 46 Democrats, and two independents that caucus with the Democrats comprise the Senate. This is why Mitch McConnell (R-KY) remains the Senate Majority Leader.

Georgia will likely certify the runoff election results on Wednesday and then swear in Warnock and Ossoff, making the Senate comprise 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris resigned Monday as California’s junior senator. California Gov. Gavin Newsom selected California Secretary of State Alex Padilla to serve as the next senator from California.

On Wednesday, Harris will take the oath of office to become the vice president and then formally give control to the Democrats.

Steve Smith, a political science professor at Washington University in St. Louis, said, “[Chuck] Schumer automatically becomes majority leader at the time the Senate is 50-50 and Harris is vice president.”

Harris will wield significant power as the tiebreaking vote in the Senate, although that may distract from her other duties as vice president.

Although Schumer will become the Senate Majority Leader, he will have to share power with McConnell.

In 2001, when the Senate was last evenly divided, Republican leader Trent Lott (R-MS) and Tom Daschle (D-SD) struck a power-sharing agreement that allowed for equal membership on committees, equal budgets for Republicans and Democrats on those committees, and the right of either party to discharge bills or nominations when the committee is deadlocked.

Smith said that the 2001 agreement “serves as a template, but the partisan distrust runs much deeper now.”

“This will be tricky and turn mostly on the leaders’ commitment to finding an agreement while under pressure from party colleagues to gain an edge over the other side,” he added.

The incoming impeachment trial of President Donald Trump will also hamper Biden’s legislative agenda.

Once House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) sends the Article of Impeachment to the Senate, all other business generally grinds to a halt. This would hamper Biden’s ability to get his nominees confirmed and early legislation passed.

However, Biden said he asked the Senate parliamentarian if the Senate could consider nominees and legislation during an impeachment trial by using half days for the trial and the other half for legislation and nominees. McConnell’s aides have yet to say if they will oppose this design.

Despite the impeachment trial, Pelosi has moved forward to enact her party’s agenda.

Pelosi plans to move on H.R. 1, the For the People Act, which is considered one of the Democrats’ marquee bills.

House Democrats have also removed the pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) restriction on excessive government spending for climate-related issues to boost their chances of passing a climate change bill such as the Green New Deal.

Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO), the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, said on the House floor, “This exemption was designed as a mechanism to ram through socialist policies like the Green New Deal and other ideas aimed at hurting American workers, families, and farmers.”

Although Democrats have a razor-thin majority in the House and a bare majority in the Senate, Pelosi still sees an avenue to pass Biden’s legislative agenda: reconciliation.

During a virtual event in December, Pelosi said that Warnock and Ossoff’s victories would give them significant power to pass bills through the Senate using reconciliation.

The Senate typically needs 60 votes to pass legislation through the chamber; however, some Senate bills can pass with a simple majority through budgetary reconciliation. Reconciliation allows Congress to pass bills affecting spending, revenue, or deficit levels.

Republicans used reconciliation to pass the Trump Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and they tried to use reconciliation during their failed attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Democrats could use reconciliation to pass bills at a similar scale the tax cuts bill or the ACA repeal bills.

“One more thing, because you know how I’m about numbers, when we win these two seats, plus Kamala Harris breaking the tie, it’ll be like getting 60 votes because once we have even the simple majority, we can vote for reconciliation, which means that you only need 51 votes to pass certain legislation,” Pelosi said.

Sean Moran is a congressional reporter for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @SeanMoran3.

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