Republicans are still favored to gain seats in the midterm elections, but not as favored as you might have thought.
They have lost their lead in the generic congressional ballot and face longer-than-expected odds to win the Senate as a result of flawed, extreme and extremely flawed nominees in Arizona, Georgia, Ohio and Pennsylvania. And while Republicans are heavily favored to win the House of Representatives, Democrats, according to the forecast at FiveThirtyEight, are still in the game, with a one in five chance to keep their majority,
This is, for comparison’s sake, just a notch lower than Donald Trump’s odds of winning the White House in 2016 . Recent election results — like the Democrats’ victory in a special congressional election for New York’s 19th District — provide even stronger evidence that the national environment may have shifted away from the Republican Party.
There is a real chance, in other words, that Democrats could enter the next Congress with their majority intact, a major change from earlier this year, when it looked as if Republicans would ride a red wave to victory in November. And if Democrats get exceptionally lucky — if conditions break just the right way in their favor — then there’s a chance that they begin the new year with a larger majority in the Senate in addition to a majority in the House.
The question is: In the unlikely event that Democrats enter 2023 with a stronger majority then they’ve had the past two years, what should they do? There has been plenty of discussion about what Republicans should do with their putative majorities, but what should the Democrats do with theirs?
The easy answer is everything Democrats couldn’t do in the previous Congress. But as we’ve seen, time is precious and success depends as much on the willingness to set priorities as it does on the ability to find consensus. What, then, should Democrats prioritize?
If the legislative story of the past two years — of the infrastructure bill, the CHIPS Act and the Inflation Reduction Act — is the return of industrial policy, then the legislative story of the next two years must be the return of social policy, as well as an all-out effort to protect and secure the rights that are under assault by the Republican Party and its allies on the Supreme Court.
This might sound expansive, but it amounts to just a handful of proposals. On social policy, Democrats should fight to make a child allowance a permanent feature of the social safety net. We already know it works; in just its first round of payments, President Biden’s child tax credits — enacted under the American Rescue Plan — brought more than three million children out of poverty.
The Biden plan expired at the end of 2021, but there are still proposals on the table. Last year, Senator Mitt Romney of Utah introduced a plan to give every family a monthly benefit of up to $350 per child for children 5 and under and $250 per child for children 6 to 17. If passed into law, Romney’s plan would, according to the Niskanen Center, cut child poverty by roughly a third. The latest version of the Romney plan isn’t as generous as the original, but it would still put a significant dent in America’s rates of child poverty. There aren’t many policies as clearly good and necessary as a permanent child allowance, which would improve the lives of millions of Americans as well as help Democrats appeal to working and middle-class voters. They absolutely have to do it.
On the question of rights, there are three places where Democrats should act as quickly as possible. The first is abortion and reproductive health. In this imaginary future in which Democrats still control Congress, they will almost certainly owe their majority to the backlash against the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health and the subsequent drive to criminalize abortion in Republican-led states.
In a sense, Democrats would have no choice but to codify abortion rights into law, most likely using the framework developed in Roe v. Wade. There’s actually a bill that does just that — the Women’s Health Protection Act, which passed the House last year. A less expansive bill, the Reproductive Freedom for All Act, is also pending in the Senate.
Passing abortion rights into federal law isn’t just the smart thing for Democrats to do, it is the right thing to do — the only way to show the public that the party is willing and able to live up to its rhetoric on reproductive freedom.
You can say the same for the other two issue areas that Democrats must address if they somehow keep their majority: labor and voting rights. Both are under assault from right-wing judges and politicians, both need the protection of the federal government and both are fundamental to the maintenance of a free and fair society. The Protecting the Right to Organize Act, which would strengthen the right of workers to form unions and bargain with their employers, is still on the table, as are proposals to revitalize the Voting Rights Act and end partisan gerrymandering.
Of course, to pass any of these laws, Democrats will have to kill the legislative filibuster. Otherwise this agenda, or any other, is dead in the water. If Democrats win a Senate majority of 51 or 52 members, they might be able to do it. And they should.
It is not often that a political party gets a second bite at the apple. If Democrats win one, there is no reason to let the filibuster — a relic of the worst of our past — stand in the way of building a more decent country, and a more humane one at that.
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