What the Democrats could prioritize if they win the presidency and both chambers of Congress
Regardless of the bravado of President Trump, Republicans seem to think he’ll lose next month’s presidential election to Joe Biden. “Y’all have a good chance of winning the White House,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said to Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar during Thursday’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing. National polls anticipate that outcome as well: Biden currently holds an 11 point lead over Trump.
Democrats are also expected to maintain control of the House of Representatives, if not extend their majority. That means the most contentious battles come Election Day may very well be fought in the Senate. Forecast models from FiveThirtyEight to The Economist predict Democrats will take back the Senate—a scenario that would, along with the Democrats winning the House and presidency, see the party fully control the federal government for the first time since 2010.
What would the Democrats aim to do with that power? Here’s what we anticipate an all-Democratic government would prioritize.
The Democrats have made it known that another COVID-19 relief bill akin to the $2.2 trillion CARES Act passed in late March is a priority for the party. In May, House Democrats passed another $3 trillion stimulus package, the HEROES Act, designed to bolster state governments, extend unemployment insurance, and increase COVID-19 testing and contact tracing. Senate Republicans promptly shut it down, calling it unrealistic and a “partisan offering,” instead proposing a significantly cut-down version of the legislation—a $650 billion “skinny” bill.
The two parties have since been locked in a stalemate over a revised stimulus, with neither side apparently willing to budge. And though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday penned a letter to her colleagues saying that “Democrats will stay at the table for as long as takes to reach agreement to honor our heroes,” it still looks unlikely the two sides will be able to compromise before the election.
In that case, a Democrat-majority Congress with Biden as President would almost certainly see the Democrats move quickly to pass another COVID-19 relief bill. Despite talks of an effective vaccine arriving sometime in late 2020 or early next year, the coronavirus pandemic—and the economic collapses it brought—will still be raging.
Alter—or end—the filibuster rule
Even if the Democrats take back the Senate, the rules the chamber must operate within could prevent the party from passing its major legislative goals. Under the current setup, the minority party in the Senate can still block most proposed legislation from being put to a vote unless three-fifths of the Senate, or 60 of 100 senators, vote to proceed.
In increasing times of partisanship, this tactic often leaves legislation dead in the water. It’s rare to get a supermajority of 60 senators to agree on changes, and much of the Democrats’ ambitions—Medicare for All, police reform, climate change policy—would likely stall in the Senate. Should the filibuster be ended so that a simple majority, 51 votes, would trigger the decision to vote?
It’s a question some in Washington are considering. But not all Democrats necessarily support the change: Senators like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Dianne Feinstein of California said they had concerns over ending the filibuster rule. The purpose of the filibuster is to lead to more compromise and prevent the opposing party from easily implementing its legislation. “I know it can be frustrating, but I think legislation is better when it has some bipartisan support,” Sen. Angus King of Maine told the Wall Street Journal.
Other Democrats, though, have come around to the idea, even those who previously didn’t support it, such as Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado. “If people continue for their own political reasons to make it impossible for the majority to exercise its will, filibuster reform may have to be on the table,” he told the Journal.
Discussions are ongoing, and it remains to be seen if Democrats would seek an all-or-nothing approach to the filibuster or simply tweak the rule, such as classifying certain types of legislation as immune to filibusters.
While an all-out elimination of the filibuster may ultimately prove too bold for Democrats to pursue, there are other tactics they may take to expand their power in government. It’s a plan they label as “democracy reform,” highlighted in 2019’s For the People Act, or H.R. 1, passed in the House of Representatives.
Not yet passed in the Republican-controlled Senate, the bill would establish a national voter registration program, make Election Day a federal holiday, replace partisan gerrymandering with nonpartisan commissions to redraw electoral districts, require presidential and vice presidential candidates to disclose tax returns, and create a public financing system for federal campaigns, among other things. Democrats believe it would create a more equitable system of democracy—and they also think it would get them more votes.
With control of Congress and the presidency, Democrats could look to finally pass H.R. 1 in the Senate and have it signed into law by Biden. “Starting with H.R. 1 is a good idea,” Rep. Ro Khanna of California told The Atlantic. “The filibuster could come right next.”
If these fundamental shifts in governance and voting are able to pass, the Democrats would have a stronger platform to push through their more ambitious proposals. With the end of a filibuster and expanded voting rights completed, climate change, Medicare for All, police reform, and statehood for Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico could eventually be on the table.