Joe Biden leads President Trump in the polls, and if Biden wins, there’s maybe a 50% chance Democrats will retake the Senate and control both houses of Congress. If that happens, what would the Democrats’ top priorities be in 2021?
Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York addressed that question in a recent interview with Yahoo Finance, and said the first priority if Democrats control government next year will be stimulus measures meant to address the coronavirus pandemic that Democrats can’t get passed this year. “I think we’re going to still be in the middle of Covid,” Gillibrand says. “Whatever Mitch McConnell is not willing to let us do, we can pass hopefully as one of the first bills” in 2021.
McConnell, the Republican Senate Majority Leader, has drafted a coronavirus stimulus bill that lacks many things in a separate bill House Democrats passed in May. The Democratic bill includes $3.4 trillion in new spending, while the McConnell bill comes in at $1.1 trillion. The biggest gap is aid to states and cities that might have to slash millions of jobs without it. Democrats allotted $915 billion in aid for states and cities. There’s no such aid in the Republican package.
Democrats also want hundreds of billions in housing and food assistance, hazard pay for essential workers, child-care assistance, Medicaid expansion and other safety-net programs. The Republican plan allots little to those causes. And Democrats want to continue paying $600 per week in extra unemployment insurance to workers who lost their jobs, through next January. Republicans support just $200 per week, with an earlier phase-out.
The two parties are still negotiating the latest stimulus bill, and Republicans will probably have to give Democrats some of what they want. A final compromise bill could total $1.3 trillion to $1.7 trillion, with substantial aid to states and cities. But it nonetheless falls far short of the Democratic wish-list passed in May.
A focus on health care and education
Biden favors higher taxes on businesses and the wealthy, part of his economic plan that has gotten a lot of attention. But don’t expect Democrats to make tax hikes one of their first big moves. It could happen, Gillibrand says, but only to pay for new benefits that have broad support: “Congress would certainly debate issues of taxes to see what makes sense. But I think where we would really want to focus our attention is on access to health care, improving our education system, job training. That's where the common ground lies in this country: health care, education, and jobs.”
Biden would raise the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, raise income taxes on people earning more than $400,000, and impose other new taxes on businesses and the wealthy. Those are supposed to pay for new measures such as improving the Affordable Care Act, covering college costs for lower-income students, expanding housing aid and other things. So the tax hikes would probably come as revenue raises in legislation to provide those benefits, rather than standalone legislation making it look like Democrats were raising taxes just because they could.
When Democrats won back the House in 2018, they passed House Resolution 1—the “For the People Act”—a sweeping plan to expand voting rights and election security, limit the role of money in political campaigns and limit corporate influence on policymaking. HR 1 was considered symbolic at the time, since there was no chance of the Republican-controlled Senate taking up the legislation. But HR 1 could make a comeback if Democrats seize full control of Congress—which will test just how committed they are to reforming practices that benefit their party just as they do Republicans.
Democrats also remain irked that Republicans put a $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions as part of the 2017 tax-cut law that passed with almost no Democratic support. Capping the so-called SALT deduction hurt higher-income states the most, because people in those states are more likely to itemize their deductions. And many of those high-income states are blue, including New York, California and Illinois. Gillibrand mentions a repeal of the SALT cap as another thing to watch for if Dems take over.
Any Democratic majority in the Senate is likely to be thin, and far short of the 60 votes needed to avert the notorious filibuster. So Democrats won’t be able to run the table. That may work to their advantage if they’re lucky enough to take charge, since it could limit their agenda to the most popular ideas and consign the most liberal legislation to the sidelines. The majority only lasts two years before it has to be earned again.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman. Confidential tip line: email@example.com. Encrypted communication available. Click here to get Rick’s stories by email.