February 26, 2021

Very Busy Very Fast

Spectator
By Stephen Tuttle | Jan. 23, 2021

This isn't going to be easy. President Joe Biden and his thin congressional majority are walking into troubled times both domestically and internationally.

The divisions we now see and must somehow confront, ably abetted by silent or overtly enabling politicians, have spilled into a contentious Congress. Biden's agenda will not even partially succeed unless he can somehow bridge that gap. And that agenda is plenty long. 

He has proposed a $1.9 trillion stimulus package that includes another $1,400 bucks for most of us, help for small businesses, money for states and cities, and well, pretty much something for everybody. Plus 100 million vaccines in his first 100 days.

He would also like to get his cabinet nominees confirmed, expand the Affordable Care Act, raise corporate taxes, reverse most of former President Trump's environmental regulation rollbacks, reform our immigration system, rescue Social Security, re-establish some treaties and trade agreements, and assuage cries for social justice.   

Circumstances outside the U.S. aren't appreciably better. Biden will face an ever-more adventuresome Russian adversary that has made inroads in Eastern Europe and Africa while we fiddled. The Middle East, as it has been for a very long time, continues to be a smoldering cauldron. China keeps right on piling up huge export surpluses with us, is still profiting from purloined intellectual property, and has been little impacted by our tariffs, for which American importers pay. North Korea is building more missiles, and the Iranians, free from the restraints of a previous agreement with the U.S., are increasing their production of enriched uranium beyond what could be considered benign domestic use.  

In the middle of this, the Senate and some Democratic House members, at least for a while, will be consumed by another impeachment trial. 

The real downside is that Biden and his Democratic majority will have about six months to do something about all of it. Beyond that, the 2022 mid-term election circus will begin in earnest.

Republicans are already salivating at the prospect of taking back both the House and Senate in '22, so they aren't likely to be all that cooperative legislatively. Democrats will be scrambling to save what they already have. 

The first midterm election for a newly elected president has not been historically kind to the party of that new president. The so-called red tide swept away Democratic control of the House in Barack Obama's first term in 2010, and the Democrats returned the favor in Trump’s first term, regaining control in 2018. 

But Democrats lost House seats in the 2020 presidential race, and their margin is now paper-thin. They've regained control of the Senate (technically, there are 48 Democrats and two Independents, but the Independents caucus with the Democrats, effectively giving them 50 seats) but with no margin at all; with a 50-50 split, Vice President Kamala Harris becomes the tie-breaking vote.   

All House seats, as ever, are up for grabs in 2022, and Republicans can regain control by flipping just five seats, well below the historical average for the party in the minority in the first midterm election. 

The Senate is even dicier for Democrats. There will be 34 Senate seats up for grabs in 2022 — 20 now held by Republicans and 14 held by Democrats. 

Currently held Republican seats are being vacated through retirement in both Pennsylvania and North Carolina, and there is an at-risk incumbent in Wisconsin and potential GOP trouble in both Iowa and Florida. But Democrats are vulnerable in New Hampshire, Nevada, and, especially, Georgia and Arizona. Both of the latter two states surprisingly voted for Biden, elected Democratic senate candidates, and will have newly elected senators forced to run again in '22.

In Georgia, Raphael Warnock beat Kelly Loeffler, who had been appointed to replace a retired Johnny Isakson. Warnock will have to run again in 2022 for a full term in a state that had been reliably red until two months ago.

Arizona's newly elected senator, Democrat Mark Kelly, must also run again in '22. He's now finishing the term of the late Senator John McCain, who was replaced by retired senator Jon Kyl (appointed in 2018), who was replaced by former U.S. Representative Martha McSally (appointed in 2019), who was then defeated in the November special election by Kelly. 

But neither Arizona nor Georgia is used to having two Democratic senators at the same time; it has been 68 years since that last happened in Arizona. It is not at all clear Democrats can repeat their massive turnout in either state absent Donald Trump to vote against. And Republicans need flip but a single seat to regain Senate control. 

Biden and his Democratic allies have a very long to-do list and may have a very short time to get it done. They need to get very busy very fast.

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