Midterms, Biden’s Agenda, and the Filibuster
For a president with a tiny majority in the House and none at all in the Senate, Biden managed to do a lot of damage. But now that is about to end.
On March 2, 2021, when he had been president less than two months, Joe Biden met with a group of liberal historians in the White House East Room. The subject was Biden’s “determination to be one of the most consequential presidents” in U.S. history, according to an account in Axios. The group talked a lot about Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal — Biden’s model for the “think-big, go-big mentality” that characterized the first months of his presidency. The president has “giant plans teed up that could make Biden’s New Deal the biggest change to governance in our lifetimes,” Axios wrote.
It was all a little ludicrous, given one fact: Democrats had the barest of majorities in the House and no majority at all in the Senate, where a 50-50 tie gave them control only with the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris. Roosevelt had huge majorities in both houses of Congress when he pushed reams of far-reaching legislation into law.
Still, it’s fair to say Biden punched above his weight for a while. First, he passed the “American Rescue Plan,” a giant $1.9 trillion spending package ostensibly devoted to “COVID relief” that flooded the economy with unneeded money and helped worsen the inflation that has marked his time in office. Then he passed, with a lot of Republican help, a giant $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. And then, after much drama, with the crucial assistance of Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, he passed a giant $450 billion climate change and health care bill misleadingly called the “Inflation Reduction Act,” which purported to help solve the problem exacerbated by his first big legislative achievement.
So for a president with a tiny majority in the House and none at all in the Senate, Biden managed to do a lot of damage. But now that is about to end.
If Republicans win control of the House in next week’s midterms, as they are all but guaranteed to do, whatever remains of the president’s legislative agenda is over. It will not pass. The Republican House leadership, headed by likely Speaker Kevin McCarthy, will not help Joe Biden go big. It will not help him go anywhere. In the Senate, a Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, should that come to pass, would not be much more helpful.
A recent New York Times analysis tries to explain the news to the president’s supporters. “For President Biden, the Dreaming-of-FDR phase of his presidency may end in a little more than a week,” the Times wrote. “If Republicans capture one or both houses of Congress in midterm elections, as polling suggests, Mr. Biden’s domestic agenda will suddenly transform from a quest for a New Deal 2.0 to trench warfare defending the accomplishments of his first two years in office.”
The Times stresses the efforts Republicans might make to undo some of what Biden has already done. While the GOP will indeed stop Biden from doing anything new, it is unlikely they will actually reverse much of what has been passed. For two reasons. One, Biden remains president. He can veto things. Even if bills undoing his accomplishments made it through both House and Senate, Biden will be able to stop them, and there is virtually no chance Republicans would be able to muster the huge majorities needed to overturn a veto.
The second reason is the filibuster. Even if Republicans take control of the Senate, they are likely to have a 51- or 52-seat majority. The real optimists hope for 53 or 54. But even the best-case scenario for the Senate leaves Republicans far short of the 60 votes required to pass legislation over Democratic filibusters, which will surely come.
The legislative filibuster is the best barometer of hypocrisy in the U.S. Senate — and that is saying something. The late Republican Sen. Fred Thompson used to describe it simply: “If I’m in the minority, the filibuster is good. If I’m in the majority, the filibuster is bad.” The problem is, the Senate changes hands. A senator who is in the majority today can be in the minority next year. That, as it happens, is what might happen to Democrats soon.
To cite one good example. In April 2017, when they were in the minority, 33 Democratic senators, including now-Vice President Kamala Harris, signed a letter to the majority leader defending the filibuster. “We are united in our determination to preserve the ability of members to engage in extended debate when bills are sent to the floor,” they wrote. “Therefore, we are asking you to join us in opposing any effort to curtail the existing rights and prerogatives of senators …” Back then, the filibuster was good.
Less than four years later, Democrats had won tenuous control of the Senate, plus control of the House and White House. Guess what happened then? The filibuster became bad. Eager to pass the Biden agenda, nearly all Democrats jumped on board to eliminate the legislative filibuster. If it had not been for holdouts like Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, they might have done it — because the filibuster was bad, bad, bad.
Now, however, Senate Democrats face the prospect of returning to the minority. And — you guessed it — the filibuster will again become good. Democrats will use it to stop the “radical agenda” of the GOP. It will likely not be a hair-on-fire urgent issue, because Senate Democrats know they have a backstop in the White House, where the Democrat in the Oval Office will veto any unwanted legislation Republicans might improbably get through the Senate. But the filibuster will, once again, be good.
But that is all details. The bottom line is that, as far as the legislation that Biden and Democrats want to pass is concerned, the party will be over.
This content originally appeared on the Washington Examiner at https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/midterms-bidens-agenda-and-the-filibuster.
(Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner. For a deeper dive into many of the topics Byron covers, listen to his podcast, The Byron York Show, available on the Ricochet Audio Network at ricochet.com/series/byron-york-show and everywhere else podcasts are found.)
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