The List: Six things Democrats could do with apparent Senate control

Andy Downing
adowning@columbusalive.com
Georgia Democratic Senate candidates Raphael Warnock, right, and Jon Ossoff headline a drive-in voting rally on Dec. 28, 2020, in Stonecrest, Georgia.

Initially, this week’s List was going to be centered on a wide range of developments that have chapped our behinds in recent days, from Gov. Mike DeWine’s hypocritical and dangerous decision to sign a Stand Your Ground bill into law (when the governor promised new gun legislation in the wake of the Dayton mass shooting, this is not what we had in mind) to reports that President Donald Trump might award Rep. Jim Jordan the Medal of Freedom, which is an honor about which I’m sure some former Ohio State wrestlers have strong negative feelings,and for good reason. Not to mention the whole ongoing presidential coup thing,which appears to be headed to its inevitable end today.

But, at least for this week, we’re going to table those ideas and instead focus on more potentially positive developments. No, not the breaking news thatPBS (finally) canceled the (terrible) children’s show “Caillou” after 20 (miserable) years on the air. We’re talking about the apparent Democratic sweep of Tuesday’s dual Senate run-off elections in Georgia, whereRaphael Warnock has already been declared the victor, whileJon Ossoff’s lead has continued to grow as the count has come in, increasing the likelihood that he will win by a large enough margin to avoid triggering an automatic recount.

So, with Senate control appearing to be within Democratic grasp, finally wrested fromSen. Mitch McConnell’s weird blue hand, we thought we’d take a look at some pieces of legislation a Biden administration could now potentially pass.

(A quick side note: We tried to keep in mind that it still takes 60 votes to pass non-budgetary legislation in the Senate, in addition to the unfortunate reality that, despite the flurry of fevered Republican attack ads warning of a Bernie Sanders-controlled Congress, liberal proposals like the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, court packing and doing away with the filibuster will likely be non-starters withmany conservative Democrats, as well.)

Regardless, this current political reality is still better for Democrats than it was 24 hours ago. Here are some of the things the party could do with its newfound Senate control.

Increase the size and scope of the next COVID relief package

With McConnell pushed to the background, expect quick action to be taken on $2,000 individual stimulus checks, which has broad appeal across both parties, as well as increased state and local aid, which could help in everything from shoring up state budget shortfalls to ensuring localities have the resources needed to more effectively distribute the coronavirus vaccine, a process that by all accounts has gotten off to a bumbling beginning.

Pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act

This bipartisan bill was introduced in July but was never brought to the floor for a vote owing to McConnell’s obstructionism.Meant to correct for the Supreme Court’s 2013Shelby County v. Holderdecision, which crippled the federal government’s ability to prevent discriminatory changes to state voting laws and procedures, this legislation would restore and modernize the protections introduced within the Voting Rights Act. With states continuing to restrict voting access amid spurious claims of fraud, this is maybe the most crucial piece of legislation that Democrats could adopt moving forward.

Approve judges absent obstruction

In addition to more easily appointing cabinet members, Democrats can now approve judges with a 51-vote majority, an advantage it could take full advantage of right up to the 2022 midterms, which are typically an uphill battle for entrenched parties. In the Obama years, for example, Democrats were only able to confirm 29 percent of Obama’s court picks during his final two years in office when Republicans controlled the Senate, compared with 89 percent in the years the party had full legislative control. The next couple of years are crucial to restoring some balance to the judiciary which has swung heavily conservative under McConnell's watch.

Tackle immigration reform

This is another area where wecould see bipartisan efforts. At an absolute minimum, those now tenuously living in the U.S. under the DREAM Act should be granted full citizenship, we should ramp up the number of immigrants accepted into the country and efforts should be redoubled to try and reunite all of the refugee families separated over these last four years by the Trump administration.

Expand and strengthen health care legislation

Larry Levitt, executive vice president for health policy at the Kaiser Foundation, posted a thread on Twitter in which he detailed a list of health policies that Democrats could enact with a majority. These include nullifying the pending GOP lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act, making ACA premiums more affordable and incentivizing states to expand Medicaid. No, it's not Medicare for All, but it's better than a continued gutting of a system that already leaves too many behind.

Take advantage of the budget reconciliation process

This is the one exception to the 60-vote rule, but it can be used only once a year, and only on budget bills. (This process is how Republicans passed Trump’s tax cuts.) It’s also, in all likelihood, the Democrats' best chance at passing big, institutional reform, and how the party takes advantage will say a lot about how it views governance.

As a final aside, any Democrats worried about how Republicans will frame legislation passed under the budget reconciliation process in midterm attack ads should take comfort in knowing that they’ll be framed as Marxist Antifa sympathizers no matter what they do over the next two years. Knowing this, it's best to take meaningful action now while you're able.