With the election of President Joe Biden and Sens. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., and Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., Democrats now have control of the presidency, the House and the Senate for the first time in 10 years. But their majority is slim, and their control of Congress will likely end in two years, following the 2022 midterm elections.
As such, the Democrats need to be strategic with their legislative focus and get to work immediately. Wasting time on minute aspects of bills that the general public does not understand, as the Obama administration did with its economic relief measure, will cost them their positions. Biden must spearhead policy that is effective and has clear, tangible results for Democrats to have any hope of successfully maintaining a majority through the midterms.
Before beginning a conversation on the policies that will be crucial for the Biden administration to push, it is important to note the likely disastrous role of the filibuster in preventing the Senate Democrats from passing legislation.
Recently, Biden has refrained from taking a strong stance on the filibuster — the popular Senate stalling strategy — and suspicions are arising among some Democrats that he may be a stronger supporter of the filibuster than they wish. In an ideal America, where bipartisanship flourishes flawlessly and democracy is perfectly embodied, Biden’s desire to negotiate and work with the Republicans without the removal of the filibuster might be a reality.
But neither of the above exists in 2021. If Biden fails to acknowledge that truth, then he can wave goodbye to any legislative plans for the coming months. His pursuit of political compromise is noble and admirable, but it is naive to think Republicans will agree to most aspects of a Democratic agenda.
Simply put, Biden needs to end the filibuster for any progress to be made.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., recognizes the power of the filibuster and the harm that outlawing it could have on his party’s role in politics in the coming years, noting just before Biden’s inauguration that he planned to present an ultimatum to Majority Senate Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and the Democrats.
His warning: Keep the filibuster, or expect a lack of cooperation. Since then, following reassurance from a few Democratic senators that they would not endorse removing the filibuster, McConnell has calmed his stance.
Reformed health care, climate initiatives, economic restoration and much more are all crucial to the Biden agenda and are desperately needed by Americans living in a post-Trump United States. The filibuster can easily block all of them.
At the moment, Biden’s plan of attack seems to be through executive orders, as both Donald Trump and Barack Obama did before him. But if the Republicans re-secure the presidency, any executive orders can be reversed. It happened with Trump, who quickly moved to dismantle many of Obama’s orders, and is now happening with Biden, who plans to do the same to Trump’s. For this reason, Biden and the Democrats cannot shy away from pushing their agenda in Congress by passing laws, arguably the most legitimate form of the legislative process.
It is inevitable that Biden will face the destructive power of the filibuster in his policy plans. It is simply a matter of if he is willing to dismantle it or not.
Apart from the set of usual responsibilities faced by U.S. presidents, the Biden-Harris administration has inherited a number of challenges this term unseen by prior administrations. In tackling them, we hope they enact policies that fully address the urgency of the pandemic while also working toward solving long-term issues like protecting Americans from further economic turmoil. In addition to mitigating the spread of COVID-19, Biden and Harris should also seek economic stability for all.
With 15,536 lives lost in Michigan and more than 400,000 dead in the U.S., coupled with a stunted economy and persistently high unemployment, the weight of each signature during these first 100 days remains heavy. A poorly balanced response could lead to an additional 200,000 deaths in the U.S. alone.
The Biden-Harris plan to beat COVID-19 is bold. But is it enough? With a seven-point strategy that values science, seeks the re-harnessing of national cooperation and emphasizes accessibility and inclusivity, our nation’s future is more hopeful than it was before this transition of power. With specific goals, such as vaccinating 100 million in the first 100 days, bringing down COVID-related costs and barriers and working to rebuild transparency and public trust in scientific institutions, the Biden-Harris plan has the potential to set America on the right track. Experts warn, however, that the plan may be lacking when it comes to funding, staffing and procedures regarding the new COVID-19 variant, SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.7.
While the Biden-Harris administration is primarily responsible for enacting their seven-point strategy to address COVID-19, we must be equally committed to doing the work as a community. In Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County, if we want to save lives in our own neighborhoods, we must remain committed to recommendations made by public health experts, like wearing well-fitted masks outside of our households and following all guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This pandemic will not go away on its own. Following mandates, enforcing travel restrictions and implementing common-sense economic measures will be equally important up until day 101 and thereafter. Without follow-through from every community in the U.S. and a sense of personal responsibility, the advances made by Biden’s administration will falter.
Though we only sit at the tip of the iceberg that will inevitably consume 2021, November 2022 and the midterm elections are just around the corner. The best way for Democrats to retain control of Congress in the 2022 midterms will be to govern like McConnell. That is: viciously, obstinately and without tolerance for dissent on important issues like the minimum wage or the filibuster — we are looking at you, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
From a purely electoral angle, one critique of the Obama administration is that former President Obama governed in the long term. Yes, the Affordable Care Act proved to be a relatively popular piece of legislation in the long run, but in the short term, this nearly 2,500-page law did little to improve the electoral odds for Democrats during the 2010 midterms.
Democrats’ failure to pass visible policies that benefited their core supporters arguably led to Republicans taking the House in 2010. Obama had much to show for his work, but most of it was too indirect to compel voters.
In contrast to the Obama administration, the Biden administration should focus first on the short term. Biden should push through those ambitious policies which will garner immediate approval from the public. An immediate, rapid-fire approach is the only type of administration that Biden can afford to have, because maintaining a governing coalition after 2022 is by no means guaranteed. Some examples of ambitious measures that have broad public support include a $15 minimum wage, marijuana legalization at the federal level and expanding government-sponsored health care plans.
Outside of policy, as Democrats move into 2021, they may want to fortify their messaging — Republicans certainly will. Take U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., who recently said, “I have built my staff around comms rather than legislation.”
Whether Democrats are more or moderate or progressive, it is clear that their messaging has been faulty. Even if Biden delivers on many of his more ambitious campaign promises, it will be useless in the coming elections if Democrats can’t communicate in new and effective ways.
For example, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg has made several successful appearances on Fox News, a notably conservative network. This could signal a welcome change in how Democrats conduct their messaging for the coming election cycle.
Democrats are not faced with the decision of either keeping control of Congress or passing ambitious policies. Those goals are one and the same. If Joe Biden wants to be a successful president, the only path that he can follow is one of aggressive action, be it on the COVID-19 pandemic, the dysfunction in our economy or in wrangling a grid-locked government.
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