By MARSHA MERCER
On the surface, Democrats’ projected control of the Senate,
as well as the House and the White House, seem like manna for President-elect
Joe Biden and Democrats hungry for change.
Republican Mitch McConnell, who as Senate majority
leader routinely dashed Democrats’ dreams, is headed for minority status, while
Democrat Chuck Schumer, who has spent 22 years in the Senate imagining this
moment, is on his way to becoming majority leader.
“Senate Democrats know America is hurting – help is on
the way,” Schumer said in a statement.
Nancy Pelosi, newly re-elected as House speaker, set as
a top agenda item for her majority an update of the Voting Rights Act with a
bill named for the late congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis. McConnell
and the Republican Senate never let the bill see the light of day.
But don’t bet your $2,000 stimulus check on the 117th
Congress taking wide-ranging action to solve many of the nation’s problems.
Yes, the third round of stimulus checks – for $2,000
each -- is a good bet, if Democrats Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock,
who have been projected victors in the Georgia runoff elections, win in the
final vote tallies.
It will be the first time in six years Democrats hold
a majority in the Senate, with Kamala Harris as vice president casting tie-breaking
votes. Democrats will run the committees and decide which legislation and
nominations reach the floor.
Democrats and some Republicans may agree on the need
for other COVID-19 relief, to beef up the fight against the pandemic and speed
Even with the Democratic trifecta, though, we’re
unlikely to see a return to the Great Society years of Lyndon Johnson, with sweeping
legislative accomplishments that reshape America.
Instead, the 50-50 split in the Senate likely will deliver
more conflict and gridlock for the next two years, as any disgruntled senator
or group of House members can bring floor action to a screeching halt.
Biden still insists he wants to work with Republicans
and Democrats at every level of government “to get big things done for our
nation.” As a former senator, he believes he can work with the GOP to achieve
the big things, but such razor-thin majorities as Democrats hold in both houses
rarely accomplish much.
Maybe Congress can follow the example of the last time
there was a 50-50 tie in the Senate. That was after another contentious
election – in 2000, which was decided by the Supreme Court.
Democratic and Republican leaders negotiated a
power-sharing agreement that lasted a few months, until one senator -- James
Jeffords of Vermont -- switched from being a Republican to an independent and
caucused with the Democrats.
In the House this time around, progressives have big ideas
but lack the numbers to pass them alone. They will need help from centrist
Democrats, the few who remain. Archconservative Republicans in the Freedom
Caucus will dig in their heels, unwilling to compromise, if history is a guide.
Biden is already getting some pushback from his own
party. Progressives lobbied him to name a woman or a person of color as
attorney general and are disappointed in his choice of Judge Merrick Garland of
the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, who is white and is seen
as an apolitical moderate.
And don’t forget: Both parties have their eyes on the
2022 congressional elections. The party in power typically loses seats in the
midterms, and House Democrats have just 222 seats at the moment, four more than
a majority, so they are vulnerable.
Crucial Senate races include one in Georgia, where
Warnock, filling an unexpired term, will seek his first full term as well as in
the battleground states of North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Our nation needs to unite, but as we saw with the riots
at the Capitol this week, aided and abetted by the president, we sadly have a
long way to go.
The next two years will be critical for Biden to prove
he and the Democrats are not only in charge but also in control.
©2021 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.