Breaking the Deadlock

Well, speak of the devil. In the Wall Street Journal Rahm Emanuel advises the incoming Biden Administration on a strategy for getting things accomplished with a divided Congress:

When the election was called for President-elect Joe Biden, progressives across the nation breathed a sigh of relief. But as the congressional results became clear, many of us paused the celebration. Unless Democrats win both Georgia Senate seats in Jan. 5 runoffs, Mr. Biden will be the first Democrat to face a Republican Senate at the beginning of his first term since Grover Cleveland in 1885. How can he even hope to pursue a progressive agenda?

The concern is well-founded because continued gridlock would be a disaster, blocking America from working through its challenges. But there is a way forward. Pundits are prone to parse the electorate between red and blue, but voters are much more complex. Millions who cast their ballots for Mr. Biden or President Trump support policy positions held by the other candidate. That isn’t to argue that President Biden should walk away from his agenda and put his finger in the wind. But it does suggest that, while Republican senators may profess to oppose the Democratic agenda, on particular issues, they’re poised to join a “coalition of the willing.”

He looks to state referenda as a guide, bascially proposing a triangulation strategy that peels off individual senators in their own political interest:

A more promising approach would be to find issues on which individual senators would benefit politically from breaking with their leadership and supporting President Biden’s plan. That would allow for small compromises that build the trust needed to advance bigger legislative priorities later.

He suggests

  • Increasing the minimum wage
  • DACA
  • Modest steps on the environment, e.g. tougher fuel economy standards, more incentives for renewable energy
  • Criminal justice reform
  • Modest health care reform, e.g. end of “surprise billing”, “make prescription drugs more affordable”

I remain unconvinced he’ll be able to gain Republican support for any of those measures. And DACA, in particular, has been stymied for years by Democrats insisting on another amnesty program which is poison to Republicans. Said another way President Biden may face as many problems gaining the support of the progressive wing of his own party as from the Republicans.

7 comments… add one
  • Andy Link

    I think the reality is that days of new bipartisan lawmaking are pretty much over. The political incentives are decidedly against compromise with “the enemy” unless there is no other choice and politicians are forced to choose.

    I’m not expecting anything major to change to the status quo over the next two years except for Covid-related legislation. The extremes and threats of primarying are simply too powerful now.

  • steve Link

    Nothing gets passed. McConnell stops everything. Pelosi will have less trouble than Boehner did with his Tea Party but wont matter.


  • CuriousOnlooker Link

    When it comes to the expectations game, the upcoming Congress may beat expectations.

    The last time there was a new President that won a close election, a closely divided Senate controlled by the opposing party, and a closely divided House controlled by the President’s party was the 107th Congress.

    Here are the acts it passed during divided control. It is a pretty hefty list.

    Patriot Act
    No Child Left Behind
    Help American Vote Act
    AUMF Against Iraq

    Then there is still ~40% chance the Democrats win 1 or 2 seats in Congress, combined with a Republican defector, would give Democrats unified control; and produce far more “liberal” legislation.

    While under one party control; the 107th Congress produced

    Bush Tax Cuts I
    Homeland Security Act

  • steve Link

    The difference was McConnell. He wasn’t running things yet.


  • PD Shaw Link

    During the Obama administration, Biden was the guy sent to negotiate with Congressional Republicans when a deal had to be made (like the budget). By temperament and experience, he’s likely to be more successful at cross-party stuff than anybody since possibly LBJ. Biden’s the ultimate Washington insider in an office that the pubic keeps voting for inexperienced outsiders to shake things up. I expect Biden will do as well as one might expect from such a closely balanced legislature, but it will be boring stuff.

  • Andy Link


    The 107th Congress was 20 years ago and a lot of those measures were due to 9/11 and not the result of any inherent political comity

  • CuriousOnlooker Link

    By my reckoning; only the Patriot act, AUMF, and Homeland Security act were due to 9/11.

    The other ones had exigent causes (Enron, Florida 2000), or were campaign promises (NCLB, tax cuts, McCain-Finegold).

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