With Georgia blue, moderates will rule

It appears Georgia has moved the balance of Congressional power away from Senate Republicans to centrist Democrats. This would be welcome news for President-elect Joe Biden, but it won’t presage a progressive legislative agenda.

The apparent victory yesterday in two Senate races would give Democrats control, as the 50-50 split would be broken by the chamber’s presiding officer, Kamala Harris, when she becomes vice president. That would mean Democrats control the calendar, what comes to the floor for a vote and under what conditions.

Raphael Warnock, the pastor of the late Martin Luther King’s Atlanta church, defeated businesswoman Kelly Loeffler who was appointed to fill a vacancy. In the other race Jon Ossoff, a 33-year-old documentary producer, holds a small, but seemingly insurmountable lead over incumbent Sen. David Perdue. There’s likely to be a recount in this race.

The apparent Senate Majority Leader-to-be Chuck Schumer of New York and Joe Biden have a long, largely positive, relationship and will work closely with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), still powerful despite a reduced majority.

If Ossoff’s lead holds and the Democrats indeed take control of the Senate, we’re unlikely to see the lurch to the far left that Republicans railed about during the campaign; instead — with such a narrow margin — we’re most likely to see moderation.

An initial test, later this month, will be a another COVID-related economic relief package, which — along with some other economic stimulus and health care measures — is likely to be part of an early budget reconciliation package that could pass on Democratic votes alone.

Afterward, with narrow margins, Democrats will have to scale back Biden’s ambitious campaign pledges on domestic spending programs and sweeping tax changes. A bipartisan infrastructure deal might be possible as well as modest climate change measures.

Significantly, the Democrats will be able to confirm most judicial nominations which only require a majority vote — as long as they are mainstream judicial liberals. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) probably would have shelved a number of Biden’s appointments a number of Biden’s appointments, as he did with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland four years ago.

A critical early test will be on modifying the filibuster rule, which effectively requires 60 votes to approve any legislation.

Democrats might be able to get a few Senate Republicans on a couple major measures, but getting ten on anything big is a reach. There are not the votes to simply end the 60-vote requirement.

However, Sen. Chris Dodd, a Democrat who served 30 years in the Senate and supported the filibuster rule, said he believes “some limitations may be possible with the realization the system is just not working.”

An immediate issue will be whether to provide another $2,000 check to many Americans hurt by pandemic-induced economic distress. That was proposed by Trump and enacted by the House, but sidetracked by McConnell as the last Congress adjourned. There may be the votes for that, but Democrats’ plans to add other items — like more support for cash-strapped state and local governments — will face tough going.

For all the attention given the Democratic left, led by Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the Senate and Alexandria Octavio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in the House, they won’t have the votes for liberal initiatives. Instead, the key will be Schumer engineering deals with moderate Democrats like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona as well a handful of moderate Republicans.

With an evenly divided Senate, both sides will make every calculation with an eye to the 2022 elections when 20 Republican-held seats (all in states won by Trump, except for Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) and 14 Democrat-held seats (all in states won by Biden) will be on the ballot.

Pelosi, the most effective House Speaker in over a half century, will have only about a ten-seat advantage, so she can’t afford to lose more than a handful of Democrats. The caucus’s left wing will make demands, but in the last Congress she was able to stave them off as she thwarted Trump. If they resist this year, it would sabotage any Biden achievements.

As challenging as this will be for Biden and congressional Democrats, the Georgia wins are a huge psychological boost.

Other than the all-important presidential race, November was a lousy election for the Democrats, with Republicans outperforming expectations in both the House and Senate as well as in state legislatures.

At 33, Ossoff would be the youngest member of the Senate. Warnock will be the third Black Senator after Harris assumes the vice presidency — and the first African-American Democrat from the South since Reconstruction.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts 2020 Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.

Tags Bernie Sanders Biden agenda Chuck Schumer control of Senate David Perdue Democratic control of US Senate Georgia Georgia runoff elections Georgia runoffs Joe Biden Joe Manchin Jon Ossoff Kelly Loeffler Merrick Garland Mitch McConnell moderate Democrats moderates Nancy Pelosi Politics of the United States Raphael Warnock

More Campaign News

See All
See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video