by N. Peter Kramer
The Democrats took control of the US Senate last night, winning two seats in the southern state of Georgia. Historical, the Democrats certainly have reason to cheer, but with the slightest difference imaginable in the Senate (50 to 50, with a casting vote for new Vice resident Kamala Harris), they have to compromise with the Republican opposition on some points.
The biggest advantage for Biden is, that he can quickly get started with the team of ministers of his choice. Presidential appointments have to be approved by the Senate; a simple majority (50+1) is sufficient. But Biden, like his predecessors, will at times have to fight hard to implement far-reaching legislation. That is due to the filibuster rule, that means that in the Senate sixty votes are very often required to conclude debates on a bill by a closing motion. Without such a motion there is no vote on the bill itself. Both President Obama and President Trump complained many times that the Sixties Rule seriously hindered their work. Obama for instance failed to reform gun laws, although the Democrats had a small majority in the Senate then but did not find the necessary 60 votes to eliminate the filibuster.
Is it possible for Biden to find agreements with the Republicans? Like Clinton did during his Presidency when the Republicans had even a majority? When Biden and (now) Senate minority leader Mitch Mc Connell both served in the Senate, they forged together agreements at crucial moments. For instance, three times the two avoided that the government would be put on hold, because the budget was not adopted. Also when Biden was Vice-President the two were able to stay, in fruitful way, on speaking terms.
The very small Democratic majority could make it a necessary for President Biden to cooperate across party lines when the small but loud left wing of his party is asking ‘too much’ of him. Also in the House, a shrunken Democratic majority including a small but strong left wing could make a same move necessary.
President Biden and Vice-President Harris, both centre politicians, face a lot of work.