Tuesday is a big day in the political world with the Georgia Senate race runoff between incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Hershel Walker. While the strong Democratic showing in the midterm election assured that there wouldn’t be a change of control in the Senate, a Warnock victory on Tuesday would take a lot of pressure off of Democrats as they work to get the President’s programs through the Congress.
As we have seen over the last two years in a Senate tied 50/50 Democratic Senators such as Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona play an outsized role when they demand changes to legislation in order to get a bill passed. With a Democratic win on Tuesday they will lose their deal making leverage with the Senate divided 51/49.
There is another advantage for Democrats if Warnock is re-elected to the Senate: Republican Governors in states with Democratic Senators couldn’t change the Senate majority if there is a death of a Democratic Senator from their state. There will be seven states with at least one Democratic Senator that has a Republican Governor. While little has been written about it, in a 50/50 Senate the unexpected departure of a Senator could lead to a change in control if a Democrat is replaced by a Republican. Something similar happened during the Obama Administration when the Democrats had won a filibuster-proof 60 vote majority but the death of Senator Ted Kennedy allowed the Massachusetts Republican Governor to appoint a Republican Senator and changed the Senate Democratic majority to 59/41 and allowed the Republicans to filibuster Democratic initiatives.
Bottom line is that while the Senate majority might not be on the ballot in Georgia on Tuesday, a Democratic win will be a substantial benefit to the President and his party.
The government funding deadline of December 16 is fast approaching and Congress will need to act in order to avoid a partial government shutdown. The major question that remains unanswered is whether or not Congress can pass legislation that funds the entire government at new funding levels under a so-called Omnibus Spending Bill or continue to fund the government at last year’s spending levels under a Continuing Resolution (CR)? The Department of Defense has been very vocal on its needs to upgrade the nation’s military hardware and that new higher spending levels are urgently needed.
It is the general consensus in Washington that once the new Congress is sworn in on January 3 negotiations between the White House, Democratic Senate, and Republican led House will be more challenging. Adding to the complexities right now is the box House Republicans are in with the lack of clarity on their leadership. Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy at the moment appears to lack the 218 votes he will need to be elected Speaker. As a large number of the more conservative House Republicans oppose agreeing to an Omnibus Spending Bill, McCarthy is basically locked out of the talks as his staff says he is a “hard NO” for any Omnibus Spending Bill. This puts a great deal of power in the hands of Senate Republicans and their leader Mitch McConnell as a road to an Omnibus Spending Bill is 60 votes in the Senate and the House passing the bill in the last days of Speaker Pelosi’s leadership.
One hang-up that has emerged in recent days is the Department of Defense requirement that all active military have Covid vaccines. Republicans are insisting that this mandate be dropped and that members of the military who were forced out due to refusal to get vaccinated be reinstated. This could be a key demand of Senate Republicans in coming days.
There is talk of a short CR that would fund the government through Christmas with Congress returning the week after the holiday in order that an Omnibus Bill can be passed prior to January 3rd and the start of Republican control of the House.
Fast Moving Congress
While the struggle to get a spending bill passed shows how cumbersome the legislative process can be, last week we saw how Washington can move quickly. In my youth I worked on Capitol Hill running a House and Senate office. One of the insights I learned is that Congress can move with speed if they want. When faced with a potential national rail strike and the genuine risk to the economy the strike would pose, Washington responded in three days – yes three days!
On Tuesday of last week the President called the bipartisan leadership to the White House to urge action. The facts were that 8 of the 12 rail labor unions had approved the deal that had been negotiated by the President’s Secretaries of Labor and Transportation. But with four unions rejecting the proposed contract a strike loomed on December 9th.
The Tuesday White House meeting was followed on Wednesday by House passing legislation imposing the labor deal on the industry with a bipartisan vote of 290 to 137. The next day, Thursday, the bill went to the Senate and passed on a vote of 80 to 15. President Biden signed the bill on Friday.