“When someone shows you who they are,” Maya Angelou said, “believe them the first time.” We’re about to be reminded who and what the corporate-owned Democratic Party is — something it showed us in 2009.
A pair of upset victories in the widely watched pair of Georgia senatorial runoff elections has handed Democrats what they said they needed to get big things done: control of the White House, the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. If they want, they have argued over the last year, they will be able to push through a lot of important legislation on the liberal agenda: a dramatic increase in the minimum wage, student loan forgiveness, an eviction ban, “Medicare for All,” expanded economic stimulus and addressing the climate crisis come to mind.
They don’t want to. They won’t try.
And they’ll have an excuse. Democrats will still be 10 votes short of the supermajority needed to override Republican filibusters. The billion dollars spent to elect those two Democrats in Georgia created some interesting symbolism about the rising influence of Black voters and hopes for further Democratic inroads in the South, but it didn’t defang Sen. Mitch McConnell. Gridlock goes on.
Not that Biden and his pet Democratic Congress have much of an agenda. He’ll reverse President Donald Trump’s executive orders on stuff like rejoining the Paris climate agreement, but he won’t move the policy meter left of where it stood under former President Barack Obama — a guy who was so far right of progressives that they launched the Occupy Wall Street movement to oppose him. Biden campaigned tepidly on adding a “public option” to Obamacare, but McConnell will almost certainly block it and anything else that requires GOP votes. The exception, of course, will be the next bloated military spending bill. For six consecutive decades, Americans have been able to count on death, taxes, rising income inequality and bipartisan support for blowing up brown people in countries we can’t find on a map with $640 toilet seats.
But you shouldn’t let the filibuster get you down. Even if Nonexistent God were to smite 10 deserving GOP senators with the coronaplague and said smitten senators represented states whose Democratic governors were to appoint their replacements, thus giving the Bidenocrats a coveted 60-vote supermajority, nothing would get better .
We know this because it happened 12 years ago during the 111th Congress.
Obama’s presidency began in the strongest power position of any Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt. With the economy in a tailspin and shedding hundreds of thousands of jobs a month — back then, we still thought that was a lot — voters were both desperate and optimistic that our new, young leader would lead us out of the Great Recession. He had a 68% approval rating, indicating bipartisan support. Democrats had picked up 21 seats in the House, giving them a 257-178 majority. They had a 59-41 majority in the Senate. (This included two independents, Bernie Sanders and Joe Lieberman, who caucused with Democrats.) They were one tantalizing vote short of a supermajority.
That changed on Sept. 24, 2009, when the seat vacated by Ted Kennedy’s death was temporarily filled by a fellow Democrat, until Feb. 4, 2010, when the Republican governor of Massachusetts violated all that is good and decent by placing Republican Scott Brown in the Kennedy spot.
Democratic apologists explain away Obama’s lack of progress on progressive policy goals during that halcyon period by pointing out that total Democratic control of the White House and both houses of Congress “only” lasted four months, during which they passed the Affordable Care Act.
Let’s temporarily set aside the question of how it is that former President Ronald Reagan rammed an agenda so far right that it still affects all of us today through a 243-191 Democratic House and “just” 53 GOP seats in the Senate. What about those four magic months during which Obama could have gone as far left as he and his fellow Democrats wanted?
Well, Democrats did pass one of those 60 straight bloated defense bills. That would have happened under Reagan or former President George W. Bush. They extended unemployment benefits by 14 to 20 weeks, depending on in which state the poor jobless schmuck lived. And the ACA. And that’s it.
In order to secure the vote of Lieberman — who represented the insurance company-owned state of Connecticut — the ACA did not include the “public option” that Obama had promised during his campaign. Then-Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, then in his pre-neutered state, called the deletion of the public option “the collapse of health care reform in the United States Senate” and added, “honestly, the best thing to do right now is kill the Senate bill and go back to the House and start the reconciliation process, where you only need 51 votes and it would be a much simpler bill.” He was right, but Obama, his House and his supermajoritarian Senate didn’t bother. Like Lieberman, they cared about insurers, not patients.
Four months isn’t that long. Yet Reagan used less time than that to crush his opponents and pass tax cuts for the rich that shredded the New Deal social safety net. Former President Lyndon Johnson took less time to “set Congress on the path to passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as a tax cut and Medicare,” wrote presidential scholar Jeffrey Tulis. FDR created modern liberalism in under three months. You can imagine what Trump would have done during four months of a GOP House and Senate supermajority.
Republicans didn’t prevent Obama from taking on the minimum wage or student loan debt or poverty. Obama had four months to do those things. No one could have stopped him. He didn’t try.
And neither will Biden given the chance.