HBW Resources Election Analysis: What We Know Now

2020 election

The shape of the nation’s new political dynamics at the federal and state levels are still emerging now. With the most votes cast in American history, the 2020 election demonstrated a fully engaged electorate and a divided one, which produced a more even distribution of gains between the GOP and the Democratic Party than both pollsters and media outlets foresaw in a “blue wave.”

What emerged appears to be a narrow Democratic win for the presidency, Republican gains in a Democratic Majority House, a likely GOP-controlled Senate and expanded Republican majorities in many battleground state capitols.

The national political arena, if it remains as split in Congress as it appears, limits the potential for major changes in federal legislation. That will turn the regulatory sphere into the battleground for major policy shifts. States will remain a venue for attempts at more aggressive policies that proponents hope can shift national opinions or serve as models for other states.

New Federal Dynamics

A Democratic Administration with a GOP-controlled Senate and a Democrat-led house creates a number of new dynamics in Washington, DC. A Biden Administration will be free to pursue its foreign policy and regulatory agendas, but limited in personnel choices requiring Senate confirmation, funding priorities, and legislative changes. The Senate under Republican control can address – or not – virtually any matter that could be proposed, at the discretion of the Senate Majority Leader. This division of power will create opportunities for either compromise or gridlock.

Federal Nominations

The Biden Administration and the coalition of interests that brought it to power range from moderate suburbanites to democratic socialists. Republican control of the Senate or a narrow Democratic control will force consideration of more moderate and less controversial candidates for key positions in the Administration requiring Senate confirmation, since both GOP-led Committees and the Majority Leader can choose not to bring nominations before the Senate. Such a situation favors the selection of sitting Senators from states with Democratic Governors or other candidates that are well-respected by both parties.  Early announcements for key positions in a Biden Administration have confirmed this case for moderates.

Budget and Appropriations

Congressional oversight of the amount of money the federal government can spend each year allows it to review and limit how much can be spent on various government programs and activities. Since this process must move through both the House and Senate, the ability to radically alter the allocation of funds – for example, moving budget from DOD to EPA – is limited and mitigates the potential for rapid or radical changes. Any Biden Administration or House Democrat priorities will require negotiations with the Senate.

Congressional Legislation

With solid control of the House, the Biden Administration and its supporters in Congress can put forward many of their highest legislative priorities and pass them in the House with the hope of pressuring the Senate or underscoring the importance of flipping the Senate to Democratic control in 2022. At the same time, direct negotiations in matters with strong bipartisan interests could be engaged in with the potential of passage in both chambers.

Regulation

The limited legislative options leave the regulatory arena as the area of greatest potential change. However, GOP Senate control eliminates a Biden Administration’s option to use the Congressional Review Act to rescind regulatory actions it opposes. Rather, a Biden Administration would need to “repeal and replace” the rules and regulations put forward by the previous Administration.  This is a more time-consuming and tedious process, but it does afford greater flexibility in how the proposed rules and regulations can be reformed and proposed again, an option not available after the use of the Congressional Review Act.  A Biden Administration will focus energy and environmental efforts on EPA regulations aimed at reducing carbon emissions and improving water quality, DOI regulations governing access and development of fossil fuels as well as wildlife and habitat protections, and NEPA regulations and permitting policies. Addressing climate change will be the underlying driver of all of these efforts.

Future of Party Politics:

President-elect Biden has emphasized the need for healing in the United States and appears to be emphasizing his willingness to reach out to and work with Republicans. At the same time, the controversies and passions of the last few years will not immediately fade and there is a real prospect for intramural conflict among Democrats.

The left’s loss of a number of House moderates and an energized progressive faction pushing an aggressive agenda will produce tension and challenges over the next few years, as Congressional leaders attempt to enact legislation and the parties begin jockeying for races in 2022 and the Presidency in 2024…elections that are already underway.

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