The Election of Joe Biden: Republican Perspective
[Ed. Note: GLG held a teleconference with Dave Hoppe titled “Post-Election Legislative Priorities — GOP Perspective” on November 10. Prior to that conversation, and in fact before the decision for Biden was confirmed, we asked Mr. Hoppe for his perspective.]
Vice President Biden is leading in the polls in a number of contested states and has been declared the winner by ABC at this time. What he will do as President early in his term will depend upon the result of the runoffs in Georgia. There are a range of possibilities in this scenario, including a Senate controlled by the Democrats with 50 votes and the vice presidency, or the Republicans winning 51 or 52 seats in the Senate to stay in the majority.
This is critical because if Vice President Biden has a Democratic majority in the Senate, he will have a very different agenda than if he has to work with a divided legislative branch.
A Democratic Senate Majority
The most critical decision, if the Democrats control the Senate, is whether they will move to change the precedent in the Senate for cloture on legislative issues like they did to change the precedent on cloture for nominations in November 2013. The pressure from the progressive wing of the Democratic party will be overwhelming to change the precedent so that debate can be shut off with a simple majority vote.
Indeed, most of the Democratic senators who were presidential candidates, as well as the other Democratic presidential candidates, supported changing cloture on the filibuster from 60 votes to a simple majority. As an example, Senator Chris Coons took the lead along with Senator Susan Collins back in 2017 to get a bipartisan letter signed by senators pledging not to change cloture on the legislative filibuster.
Last summer, when a reporter asked Senator Coons if he would continue to oppose a change in the number of votes needed to achieve cloture on legislative issues, he demurred and said that with Joe Biden as President, it might be necessary to change the precedent on cloture so that a simple majority could cut off debate in the Senate.
If the Democrats in the Senate change the precedent and vote to cut off debate with a simple majority vote, there will be an early, intense effort to move legislation on the four priorities that Biden has identified as his mandate: COVID, economy, climate, and systemic racism.
Majority Leader McConnell has already said that he would like to try to get an agreement on a narrow COVID package during the lame duck. If it is possible at all, such a package would include PPP, some help for the airlines, extension on unemployment at a lower figure than $600 per week, some liability protection, and money for vaccines and tracing. There could also be some help for state and local governments if none of the money goes to bail out pension funds. The big question is if the Democrats want to get some aid to businesses and more immediate funding for vaccines and tracing or wait until February.
After Biden is sworn into office, there will be a race to move a significant COVID bill that mirrors the HEROES bill passed by the House last summer. That most likely will be followed by a tax bill that will include increases in the corporate tax rate and personal tax rate increases for those making over $400,000 per year. It will also raise taxes on capital gains, get rid of the step-up basis for transferable assets, increase estate taxes, tax carried interest at personal income tax levels, restore the SALT deduction for all taxpayers, restore the individual mandate tax on people who do not buy health insurance policies, extend TCJA tax cuts to middle-income and lower-income taxpayers, increase the child care tax credit and make it fully refundable, eliminate tax breaks for drug advertising, eliminate tax benefits for all fossil fuel energy production, set a 15% minimum corporate tax, set a 21% tax on overseas income, and impose a 28% cap on itemized deductions. There will be an effort to pass some form of an infrastructure bill including roads, bridges, electric automobiles infrastructure, and extending tech connectivity.
In addition to rejoining the Paris Accords, there will likely be a climate bill modeled after the Green New Deal. The fight there will be between the progressive Democrats like Senator Sanders and those Democrats who want to keep the price tag between $2 trillion and $3 trillion. It is unclear what legislative proposals may be brought forward to solve the problem of systemic racism, but reparations for slavery might be one of the main features of any legislation.
There are other significant legislative proposals beyond the four-issue mandate that Biden has declared. In addition to increases in spending for several domestic programs, the appropriations bills will be used to eliminate a number of spending restrictions that have become long-term policy. Chief among these will be social issues like the Hyde Amendment, which candidate Biden made a major issue when he dropped his longtime support for it during the campaign. Spending for the border wall will be stopped immediately.
A health care public option will be a major effort by a Biden administration. Once again, the fight here will be among Democrats who want to move further toward central government control of all health care and Biden, who wants to extend Obamacare and Medicaid.
There is a list of support groups who will want to make sure their long-term goals are achieved, such as eliminating charter schools, union card check, corporate boards must have worker and social group representation, free college education, a requirement to “buy American” for infrastructure material plus a requirement that all infrastructure jobs be union jobs, require licensing of all guns and a ban on certain types of weapons, revive the CFPB, create a Public Credit Reporting Agency, review bankruptcy rules that advantage creditors, $15-an-hour minimum wage, eliminating the Electoral College, and D.C. statehood.
At some point there will likely be legislation to make all DACA people citizens. There may be an attempt to provide a path to citizenship for illegal aliens in the U.S. as well.
Once the filibuster is terminated, the dreams of every group who supported the Democrats will be possible to achieve and there will be immense pressure to answer their demands with legislative action. When it is possible to move as quickly in the Senate as in the House on legislation, there will be no excuse for not acting. Executive actions that can be overturned by the next Republican president will not be acceptable.
A Republican Senate Majority
Should the Republicans retain their majority in the U.S. Senate, the Biden legislative agenda will be much different. President Biden will still try to implement his four major mandate items, but this will mostly be for show. He will have to prove to the groups who elected him and to the progressive flank in Congress that he really meant what he said and supported in his campaign and in the Biden/Sanders accord.
However, he will be much more likely to pursue an active executive order agenda and regulatory changes with policy letters than he would be with complete control of the government in Democratic hands. We might see a period more like the relationship in 2011-12 between the Obama White House and the divided Congress. Back then, there were some major accomplishments like extending the tax cuts. In this instance, the first issue would be to work out some kind of a COVID bill. It would include $2 trillion to $3 trillion in new spending, PPP, airline bailouts, vaccines, tracing, some liability, some extension of additional unemployment benefits from the federal government to the states, and some bailouts for state and local governments with restrictions on how the states can use the funds.
The other likely possibilities for bipartisan agreement are infrastructure programs for roads, bridges, and tech (5G). There will be some sort of an extension to the TCJA tax cuts for middle- and lower-income individuals. Bipartisan efforts to increase defense spending, especially shipbuilding, are possible. Police reform like that proposed by Senator Tim Scott last summer might have a chance of passing. Finally, there is a long-shot chance that a limited immigration bill could pass. The outlines would be border security funding in trade for solving the DACA issue.
About Dave Hoppe
Dave Hoppe is the President of Hoppe Strategies in Washington. With more than 30 years at the epicenter of the Republican legislative agenda and conservative thought leadership, Hoppe holds the distinction of being the only person to serve as Chief of Staff to both the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader. From November 2015-January 2017, he served as Chief of Staff to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. His career highlights from three decades on the Hill include the Economic Recovery Act and Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981, Senate impeachment trial of President Clinton, preparing the Senate for a Bush/Gore Electoral College challenge, revamping the whip office in both the House and Senate, developing Speaker Ryan’s Better Way agenda, and negotiating passage of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act of 2016. As a strategic and political consultant, he brings expertise in issues facing the current House and Senate, including ACA repeal and replace, tax reform, Budget Act and reconciliation, defense spending, infrastructure spending, immigration, and other reforms. Dave previously served as an advisory Board Member of Raytheon IIS, a subsidiary of Raytheon, transitioning out of the role in August 2019.