The floor time constraint of any 2021 agenda

Prioritization will be a key differntiatior of Democratic Presidential and Senate primary candidates. I believe that most Democrats will share significant elements of what is on their top-10 list of areas that need federal government attention in a government that could theoretically have a narrow Democratic trifecta. But the key will be prioritization.

In 2009-2010, the US Senate was able to do the following big things:

  • Confirm two Supreme Court Justices
  • Pass the ACA
  • Pass Dodd-Frank
  • Pass the stimulus (ARRA)

In 2017-2018, the US Senate was able to do the following big things:

  • Pass a huge ass tax cut
  • Confirm two Supreme Court Justices
  • Not pass Repeal and Replace while burning several months of attention on it

Senate floor time is a key constraint.  A very productive Senate might have slots for two big bills, three or four medium actions (such as SCOTUS nominees) and a lot of housekeeping.  A productive Senate is most likely positively correlated with the size of the effective majority.

Right now, there are numerous agenda items that could qualify as a “big” thing from the Democratic/liberal perspective.  The following will be an incomplete list:

  • Healthcare reform
    • Medicare for All?
    • ACA 3.0?
  • Global Warming Policy
  • Voting Rights Act revision
  • Civil Rights Act revision
  • 2 or more SCOTUS confirmations
  • Truth and Reconciliation
  • Constitutional Amendments to make electing a compromised buffoon harder (mandatory disclosure of 14 years of paperwork related to anything authorized by the 16th amendment etc )
  • Immigration and naturalization

Any of these things could easily eat up three months or more of floor time in the Senate.  I’ve listed well over twenty four months of potential floor time activities from an incomplete list if all of these items were considered to be “big” items for the Senate.  That is infeasible as it neglects the basic day to day functioning of the Senate as well.  The Senate still has to approve nominees, it still has to pass appropriations, it still has to make tweaks and changes to the law as circumstances dictate.

So the question will be prioritization.

Candidates are likely to share the same items on a top-10 list but the rank ordering and asset allocation will matter a lot. One candidate might want to spend six months on healthcare again at the cost of doing not much if anything on immigration and naturalization. Another candidate could want to spend a little time on a minimal “fix-it” healthcare bill while spending more time on global warming policy.  Those are all defensible choices.  But the prioritization is very valuable information.

 

37 replies
  1. 1
    David Fud says:

    I don’t know if it is wise or not but I would be inclined, if the Trumpian judges are not undone, to do two things first: 1) pack the courts; and, 2) welcome Puerto Rico and DC and any other colony into the union. We have been playing political catch up every time we take the trifecta. Time for the Dems to adjust the balance of power and let them cry about it.

  2. 2
    Betty Cracker says:

    Great point about time constraints. My initial thought was that voting rights and SCOTUS nominations should be the top two priorities since success on the other agenda items depends on free and fair elections and an honest judiciary. But arguably, addressing climate change is an even higher priority since literally everything else is moot if the worse-case predictions prove accurate. You could also argue that a successful truth and reconciliation effort could buy the Democrats more time for the other items by discrediting Republicans. Hmm. Tough choices.

  3. 3
    Cermet says:

    Zero doubt that voting rights is number one! Without that, all else becomes something that the reptilian party will over turn.

  4. 4
    Baud says:

    Sounds like the first item of the agenda will be to add more hours to the day.

  5. 5
    low-tech cyclist says:

    1. Voting & civil rights (one big bill)
    2. Climate change
    3. SCOTUS (cranking it up to 11 & nominees)

    For now, a package of ACA fixes would do. Extend subsidies so nobody pays more than 10% of income in total costs. Do hearings on best path to UHC.

    Truth and reconciliation: can be done entirely by committee. Doesn’t need action of full Senate.

    Constitutional amendments: get ’em through the full House & Senate committee, let full Senate take up if time.

  6. 6
    CarolDuhart2 says:

    1) Voting. Free and fair elections make everything else possible.
    2) immigration reform and fast-track citizernship. Works with 1) very well. Takes the tool of xenophobia out of the hands of subsequent Republican administrations and the use of immigrants for fear-mongering and possible war-mongering as well.

  7. 7
    Baud says:

    Whatever Dems choose, it’ll be a massive betrayal.

  8. 8
    Kirk Spencer says:

    I think two potential events may restrict what free floor time is available. First is dealing with the immediate post-Trump cleanup. Second is dealing with McConnell as Minority Leader.

    Neither are certain. The clean-up may instead be thrust upon the current senate, and McConnell may lose his next election.

    But I think it wouldn’t hurt to decide what single item is ‘must pass’ in case that’s all we get out of that class.

  9. 9
    Matt McIrvin says:

    I’m wondering how we deal if it turns out that there simply is never a Democratic-majority Senate again. That’s a real possibility.

    Among other things, it would mean that no Democratic President will be able to appoint SCOTUS justices, maybe not even federal judges–the judiciary will just fill up with Republican appointees until they all are.

  10. 10
    Betty Cracker says:

    @Matt McIrvin: I don’t discount that possibility either, and I have no idea what we can do about it. We’ll know more after 2020.

  11. 11
    Searcher says:

    What’s the constraint on more floor time?

    We all know Congress is a bunch of lazy SOBs whose workweek makes your average kindergartener look productive. What would it take to say “the Senate is now in session five days a week, fifty weeks a year, Saturdays too if we fall behind”? Could the majority leader decree that by fiat or is that part of the rules package vote on day 1 or what?

  12. 12
    Steve in the ATL says:

    @CarolDuhart2: we missed you last night! A good time was had by all, except maybe for the people sitting next to me. But anyway—there are some good people here in the CVG.

  13. 13
    daveNYC says:

    @Searcher: Right now the Senate Majority Leader is like unto a god when it comes to deciding what the Senate does. Holding them in session until stuff gets done seems well within that position’s power.

    Honestly, step one should be to do a serious rewrite of the Senate rules to streamline things and get rid of the filibuster. The House manages to pump out tons of bills, there’s no reason that the Senate can’t at least try to keep up. Convincing 51 Senators to go along with this plan is not likely to happen unfortunately.

  14. 14

    @Matt McIrvin: We were never supposed to take back the Congress either because of R gerrymandering. Kansas has a D governor now after the idiocy of Sam Brownback. Circumstances evolve. Things seldom remain static.

  15. 15
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    Voting and civil rights. Ideally setting proper federal standards for federal elections, including security and an audit train, a national registration database modeled on that of Canada, doing something about districting, expanding the size of the House, and setting appropriate penalties for vote suppression. But the details matter less than the purpose, which is that large parts of the US still do not have free and fair elections, and they need to be forced to have them.

    (Hi, all. It’s been too long.)

  16. 16

    Getting decent administrators for USCIS and ICE will mitigate a lot of problems as well as junking a lot of directives that have come from the T admin to make life hell for anyone who has to deal with the immigration bureaucracy.

  17. 17
    rikyrah says:

    Voting Rights.
    Civil Rights.
    Shore up Obamacare.

  18. 18
    Victor Matheson says:

    Voting rights.

    Do it right and you have a decent shot at giving yourself 4 or 6 or 8 years to do the rest of the stuff.

    Do it wrong and you only have 2 years to get things done and then everything gets reversed 2 years later anyway.

  19. 19
    Sebastian says:

    How to deal with Putin and his global organization of Deatheaters.

  20. 20
    low-tech cyclist says:

    I’m wondering how we deal if it turns out that there simply is never a Democratic-majority Senate again. That’s a real possibility.

    ‘Never’ is a long time, but I certainly worry about the next few years. It’s not going to be easy even to get to 50 Senate Dems in 2020 – and now Manchin is making noises about running for WV Gov in 2020, even though he just got re-elected to the Senate.

    If the Dems do win the White House and the Senate in 2020, DC statehood is an absolute MUST, ditto PR statehood if the people of Puerto Rico want it.

  21. 21
    Ken says:

    It would be great to see the first Executive Order of 2020 simply be “All executive orders made by Donald Trump are revoked.”

  22. 22
    Kent says:

    @Ken:

    It would be great to see the first Executive Order of 2020 simply be “All executive orders made by Donald Trump are revoked.”

    More important will be reversing most or all of the regulations out of the Trump Administration which is mostly going to be a long hard slog involving the courts. Regulations weakening environmental regs, health care regs, consumer regs, banking regs, etc. The Trump Admin has been hell-bent on a deregulatory agenda in favor of corporate interests that has mostly flown under the radar. It all needs to be rolled back.

  23. 23

    @Baud:

    Sounds like the first item of the agenda will be to add more hours to the day.

    Either that or radically rethinking Senate procedures so this kind of major legislation takes more committee time and less floor time.

  24. 24
    H.E.Wolf says:

    @Matt McIrvin:

    I’m wondering how we deal if it turns out that there simply is never a Democratic-majority Senate again. That’s a real possibility.

    In 2020, there will be 12 Democratic-held Senate seats up for re-election, and 22 Republican seats (including the special election in Arizona).

    Some, though not all, of those states have been trending from red to purple to purplish-blue (see 2018: TX and GA).

    In 2018, a number of House Republicans – including a number of Committee Chairs – retired rather than campaign for re-election.

    I think they saw which way the wind of public opinion was blowing… and I think that the wind will be blowing more strongly in 2020.

    Voter registration and voter turnout will decide many elections in 2020. I’m continuing my volunteer job for the State Democrats, matching up volunteers in preparation for 2020 outreach.

  25. 25

    @Searcher:

    We all know Congress is a bunch of lazy SOBs whose workweek makes your average kindergartener look productive.

    Sorry, but this is a piece of stupid, anti-government bullshit. Yes, Congress is only in session part of the time, but holding legislative sessions is only part of a member’s job. Meeting with constituents is a critical part of a legislator’s job. If we keep our legislators in DC all the time, they become creatures of DC rather than remaining responsive to their constituencies back home.

  26. 26
    Brachiator says:

    But the key will be prioritization.

    Letting Trump’s tax cuts remain in place would be insane.

    The other items offered here are very interesting. Lots to do, including banking reform and consumer protection.

  27. 27
    snoey says:

    @Roger Moore:

    We can help with the bandwidth issues by reversing the Gingrich cuts to Congressional staff and research offices, and beefing up the Senate as well.

  28. 28
    Bruuuuce says:

    One more apparently wonky item that can be put onto the list because it will affect everyone: net neutrality. It should, of course, be a no-brainer, but after what we’ve seen for the last several years, allowing sources like Faux Noise to buy their spot in the fast lane while honest sources can’t afford to is potentially a deal-maker or deal-breaker in upcoming elections.

    But voting rights and fair redistricting first.

  29. 29
    low-tech cyclist says:

    @H.E.Wolf:

    In 2020, there will be 12 Democratic-held Senate seats up for re-election, and 22 Republican seats (including the special election in Arizona).

    Some, though not all, of those states have been trending from red to purple to purplish-blue (see 2018: TX and GA).

    In 2018, a number of House Republicans – including a number of Committee Chairs – retired rather than campaign for re-election.

    538 says:

    The Senate battleground is certainly better for Democrats in 2020 than it was this year, but it will still be an uphill climb.

    Sure, the vast majority of the seats up for election in 2020 are GOP-held, but most of them are in deep red territory.

    Let’s put it this way: if the Dems win every Senate seat with a partisan lean of R+14 or less, while the GOP wins every seat with a lean of more than R+14, the Dems will only have a 52-48 majority in 2021, having picked up seats in ME, CO, NC, IA, AZ, and GA, and having lost Doug Jones’ seat in Alabama. (And none of those six pickups are a gimme.)

    While I’m hopeful that the Dems can take the Senate in 2020, it’s not going to be easy.

    ETA: With the possible exception of Cory Gardner in CO, I don’t see anyone retiring because they’re afraid of a Dem challenge, either.

  30. 30
    lynn says:

    You list is just stuff the GOP has messed that the Dems want to fix. Need to freshen things up so stuff sounds new not just improved…catch peoples attention. What’s missing is how the corps have taken control of our personal attention. There must be a way to get an unlisted cell phone #. I’m sick of robo calls and people trying to sell stuff. Also, the corps must stops selling my info to others I do not know. My info is mine and I should be able to control who access.

  31. 31
    sheila in nc says:

    @Roger Moore: Agreed. Also, legislative sessions include not just floor time but work on multiple committees, including holding hearings, preparing for hearings, and taking committee votes. These are actually some very hard-working people, and their staffs even more so.

  32. 32
    sheila in nc says:

    @Bruuuuce:

    net neutrality

    File under the “reversing of deregulation” comment by Kent in #22. But yes, important.

  33. 33
    PJ says:

    I know that the makeup of the Senate in 2021 is now unknown, so that particular senators’ concerns cannot be completely accounted for, and it is highly unlikely that a) Democratic senators will want to give up the filibuster (though I would) and b) they will have 60 or more seats, so that there will be a need to compromise with Republicans on some matters, but it seems to me that, in the next two years, both houses can be working on these bills so that they are ready to go, with an “ideal” law the thing that they present first, but with fallback plans ready based on predictable criticisms.

  34. 34
    Mike in DC says:

    Voting rights, civil rights/criminal justice reform, and immigration reform. Oh, and a 15 dollar minwage, with automatic CPI increases.

  35. 35
    PJ says:

    @PJ: That said, while voting rights/civil rights and electoral reform/ security are key to prevent Republicans from illegitimately maintaining power in the future, public trials regarding Republican collusion, and investigation of media facilitation of the same and the general dark money corruption of the political process should be the second priority. There are a lot of American who are ill or misinformed, and we need to have all of the chicanery exposed.

  36. 36
    H.E.Wolf says:

    @low-tech cyclist:

    I agree with you and 538 about the challenges you mention.

    It’s definitely not going to be easy. However, for me and probably for many others, it is going to be a great pleasure to be involved in that hard work.

  37. 37
    grrljock says:

    This is a good exercise to help us focus our thinking and where we can direct our efforts, e.g., sending money/putting in time in certain Congressional districts, issues to emphasize to our electeds/write about in letters to editor, etc. I agree with many here that voting rights should be #1, otherwise we’d be back to square 1 in 2 years. Second should be climate change (everything is moot without a human-livable planet), and third is shoring up ACA and DACA to protect the most affected folks.

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