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 vaccine distribution.
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.