Government Affairs & Lobbying E-lert: The New Senate

By: Chris McCannell, Senior Government Affairs Consultant

Washington, DC – January 6, 2021 – Georgia made history last night by electing the first African American Democrat to the United States Senate, Rev. Raphael Warnock, in a runoff election against appointed Senator Kelly Loeffler (R). Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff holds a 16,000-vote lead over Georgia’s other incumbent Senator, David Perdue (R), and is likely to be declared the winner of that race this morning. 

With Vice President-elect Kamala Harris serving as ex officio President of the Senate, Democrats will control a 50-50 Senate, which presents unique but not unprecedented opportunities:

President-elect Biden’s “First 100 Days” agenda becomes paramount, as the new Congress seizes the opportunity to make his most urgent campaign promises a reality: 

  • Implement a comprehensive public-health response to controlling the COVID-19 virus
  • Vaccinate 100 million people
  • Extend unemployment insurance and the federal eviction moratorium

Senate Democrats and Republicans must agree on representation ratios on committees, and on the title of the senior Republican members—Vice Chair, most likely, instead of “Ranking Member.” The agenda, however, will be firmly in Democrats’ hands. The Senate was more collegial in previous sessions when the committees were evenly split, but we expect to see a lot of behind-the-scenes horse-trading as this Senate organizes. 

Initiatives most likely to move in this Senate include:

  • Reconciliation,” a technical procedure designed to get around the filibuster by allowing tax changes and other policy changes to pass by votes of 50 +1
  • Additional COVID relief, building on the $900 billion “down payment” in last year’s omnibus funding package; this could move as independent legislation in the first 100 days
  • Infrastructure, which could be tied to COVID relief but could also move quickly on its own; Senator Carper led Democratic policy on highway reauthorization last year, and will work with House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Pete DeFazio (D-OR) to act on this top Biden priority
  • Tax policy; if not full repeal of the Trump tax cuts, Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden will lead the effort to make changes, possibly including increased tax rates on high-income individuals
  • Healthcare, including Medicaid expansion, increased incentives for Obamacare, and other measures to extend access to coverage during the public health crisis and going forward 

Navigating a Democrat-Controlled Washington

Although Democrats will control the Senate, the 50-50 split means that moderation will be the most effective strategy for success, giving new deal-making power to the leading Senate moderates: 

The need for moderation on the Senate side will change Congressional dynamics:

  • Brakes on the House’s most progressive members will come from moderate Senate Democrats, rather than Senate Republicans.
  • Rhetoric will change, as it’s harder to fight a President and Senate majority of one’s own party than the opposing party. 
  • Democrats will be motivated to present a unified front that achieves results for the American people.
  • Broad-based bipartisan coalitions in both the House and Senate will be necessary to get anything done in the next two years. 
  • House and Senate Democrats will need to work together to identify and define their goals and parameters before legislation goes to the floor. 

The GrayRobinson team looks forward to working with you to navigate the 117th Congress and the new Biden Administration.