Senate Democrats are bracing for the possibility for life under a divided government, with President Biden in office and a strong possibility of a Republican-controlled House.
Democrats hope they can retain their majority in the Senate, where a number of political handicappers say the party is favored. That would give Democrats more leverage and congressional support for Biden over the next two years.
But if the House does fall as expected, lawmakers expect partisan gridlock.
Some Democrats are predicting government shutdowns and standoffs over raising the federal debt limit will take center stage.
“If Republicans win control of the House, they will not be able to govern. It’ll be a cascading nightmare of dysfunction and horrible for the country and horrible news for anybody who relies on federal funding,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Murphy predicted that if Republicans are in charge of one or both chambers, “it’s probably a series of shutdowns and funding crises.”
“This new breed of Republicans are anarchists. They don’t really believe government should be funding anything,” he added.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the House minority leader who is in line to become Speaker if Republicans win the lower chamber, is more allied with former President Trump than his Senate GOP counterpart, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
McCarthy sided with Trump last year when the former president called on Republicans to block legislation to raise the debt limit, which would have put the nation at risk of default.
Not a single House Republican voted to raise the debt ceiling in October and it fell to McConnell and his leadership team and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to provide the votes to keep the United States fulfilling its debt obligations.
Trump, who retains a strong grip on the Republican base, slammed McConnell for compromising with Democrats, arguing that GOP lawmakers should have sought to paralyze Biden’s agenda.
Trump presided over a 35-day government shutdown at the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019 — the longest in U.S. history — which was triggered by his demand to spend nearly $6 billion to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
FiveThirtyEight.com, a political forecasting website, gives Republicans a 7 in 10 chance of winning the House majority and Democrats a 7 in 10 chance of keeping control of the Senate.
Another Democratic senator who requested anonymity to comment frankly on the likely result of the November election, said if Republicans capture the House, it will yield “a series of investigations” of the Biden administration.
“Many want to impeach Joe Biden. It would be a recipe for chaos and for gridlock,” the lawmaker said.
Several House conservatives have already introduced articles of impeachment against Biden, alleging “high crimes” related to his handling of border security and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan last year to has management of the coronavirus pandemic.
Conservatives are signaling they will attempt to block funding for the Internal Revenue Service to hire an estimated 87,000 new employees, which was provided for in the Inflation Reduction Act, which Democrats passed in August under the budget reconciliation process.
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), a prominent Trump ally, penned an op-ed for Fox News with Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) urging fellow Republicans to “stop caving to Democrats” and warned “under no circumstances should any Republican in the new majorities next year vote to fund the Democrats’ newly passed army of 87,000 new IRS officials to audit and harass Americans.”
Some Trump allies still haven’t given up hope of repealing the Affordable Care Act, which was one of Trump’s top domestic priorities after taking office in 2017.
“If we’re going to repeal and replace ObamaCare — I still think we need to fix our health care system — we need to have the plan ahead of time so that once we get in office, we can implement it immediately, not knock around like we did last time and fail,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who is running for reelection, told Breitbart News Radio earlier this year.
When Republicans took control of the House after the 2010 midterms, then-Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), whose influence in the party has grown significantly over the last decade, proposed $2.5 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years. His proposed Spending Reduction Act would have cut nondefense discretionary spending dramatically.
In April of that year, then-President Obama and then-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) flirted with a government shutdown before Democrats finally agreed to $39 billion spending cuts in a late-night deal.
The Congress also came perilously close to defaulting on the federal debt in August of 2011, a few months after House Republicans captured the House. Fiscal disaster was averted by a compromise that McConnell and Biden, who was then vice president, helped craft.
Senate Democrats say they hope such standoffs will be avoided.
“I think we’ve learned that shutdowns really are a lose-lose [proposition,]” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who came to Congress in 2011. “Certainly some House Republicans have learned. Whether all of them or the newly elected ones remains to be seen.”
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said he’s optimistic about working with House Republicans in the next Congress to pass the annual defense authorization bill. But he expressed concerns that Trump allies in the House will try to undermine the professionalism and political neutrality of the military.
Trump tried to shake up the Pentagon’s senior ranks and install loyalists into key positions after he lost the 2020 election to Biden, and Reed fears that Trump allies in the House may still have that on their agenda.
“One of my concerns is less the NDAA, it’s the growing attack on the military as an institution. I just saw where the Arizona candidate for the Senate called for firing all the generals and putting in conservatives. That’s not how we [run] our army. It’s based on competence and experience and the judgment of others, their superior military officers,” Reed said.
Blake Masters, the Republican candidate for Senate in Arizona, has repeatedly called for the across-the-board firing of generals between August of 2021 and March of this year, according to a recent report by Vice.com.
Despite the growing Democratic concerns of having to interact with a House Republican majority in 2023, some Democratic senators think they’ll be able to find narrow areas of common ground.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) cited bipartisan support for the chips and science bill that passed both chambers this year with bipartisan majorities.
“Of course there will be areas where we can work together,” he said.
“They’ll be doing a lot of stuff for show,” he added, anticipating new investigations of the Biden administration.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) noted he is working with Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) to restore the pensions of salaried retirees in Delphi who were terminated when General Motors declared bankruptcy in 2009.
“There will be ways. They’re not all crazy. Some of them are,” he said of House Republicans.
Brown, however, insisted the political winds are shifting in Democrats’ favor, even in the battle for the House.
“I think things are changing and these are close races,” he said. “The only thing that would cost us the House is redistricting,” referring to the changes to congressional maps made after the 2020 census.