Despite a pandemic and the ensuing chaos 2020 has brought, this fall’s election cycle saw a record number of early votes cast by mail with millions more casting their ballots in person on Election Day. However, the balance of congressional power between Democrats and Republicans will not be decided until the new year.
On Nov. 7, most media outlets called the election in favor of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump claimed the election results were invalid. Barring any major surprises, Democrats will also maintain a majority in the House of Representatives next term and gain seats in the Republican-controlled Senate. Republicans currently hold a lead of two seats in the Senate, meaning Democrats will need to win both remaining Senate races for the Biden administration to pass any significant legislation.
Democrats and Republicans should not rejoice or despair yet. As a nation, we need to keep following the Senate races. At this point, the Georgia Senate races are just as important as the presidential election and should be treated as such, as they will ultimately determine the effect of Biden’s policies, positive or negative, on our everyday lives.
In January, Georgia will hold two simultaneous runoff races for each of its Senate seats: a regular election for incumbent Sen. David Perdue’s (R) seat and a special election for retired Sen. Johnny Isakson’s (R) seat. During the general election, a candidate in Georgia must receive over 50% of the votes in order to be elected. If all candidates fall short, the top two candidates will campaign in a run-off. Perdue, who fell just short of the 50% mark, will face off against Georgetown University graduate Jon Ossoff (D), who received 48% of the vote.
In the special election, because of the short time frame left by Isakson’s retirement, Georgia did not conduct a primary. Over 20 candidates entered the race, but Raphael Warnock (D) ultimately earned a plurality of about 33% of the vote. Warnock will run against multimillionaire businesswoman and incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R), who has had her fair share of political controversies, most recently in her objection to players on her WNBA team wearing “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts before games. Both GOP and Democratic leadership are expected to spend over $100 million campaigning in these races, over 10 times more than the average campaign in the last election cycle.
In Congress, Republicans are likely to oppose Biden’s support for immigration, public-option healthcare, gun reform and environmentalism, among other issues. A divided government under the Biden administration is therefore likely to inhibit nearly all progressive legislation the House and executive branch will support.
President Barack Obama experienced this exact problem with a divided government. In the first two years of his presidency, a united Democrat-majority Congress was able to pass economic stimulus legislation for the 2008 financial crisis, the Dodd-Frank Act, which stabilized the fragile economy through regulation, and, most notably, the Affordable Care Act.
Some experts consider these three laws to be Obama’s only significant legislative achievements. The ensuing six years of divided leadership produced almost no noteworthy legislation, and marked one of the least efficient congressional periods in U.S. history, according to an index created by conservative news outlet The Washington Times. Partisanship aside, Obama’s second and third Congresses spent less time in session than under other presidents and enacted fewer than 300 laws each, setting all-time lows in recent history. These numbers prove just how significantly a partisan Congress can affect a president’s legislative success.
This failure cannot be placed on either side, however. Political analyst John Feehery argues that, while Obama could have reached across the aisle more, the Republican majority made bipartisan cooperation nearly impossible. This anti-Obama approach created further partisanship in government, which has become even worse today.
Biden will be subject to similar hardships in passing legislation. To make matters worse for the president-elect, his power to issue executive orders will also be restricted. Executive orders are often used as a means of foregoing congressional approval to implement a certain law or policy initiative.
However, executive orders can be challenged and deemed unconstitutional by federal courts. In Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, the Supreme Court insinuated that executive orders cannot create legislation on their own, but rather interpret the law. Conservative judges in the Supreme and Federal District Courts will be more likely to limit the scope of executive orders, or even deem some unconstitutional. This dynamic would affect any sitting president, but it will serve as a significant roadblock if Biden wants to make changes to current U.S. law.
All things considered, the two Senate races in January will likely determine the productivity of the first two years of the Biden administration. If Republicans win one of the two available seats, Democrats will still face a massive roadblock in implementing progressive legislation.
Despite a significant electoral victory, the fate of the Biden administration and the ultimate direction of the United States lie in two run-off elections that only involve around 3% of the American people. This January, 10 million people will decide the future of our nation. While Biden’s electoral victory is a significant gesture from the American people, the presidency alone won’t be as significant as many have treated it as. Biden needs a Democratic Senate in order to fulfill many of his campaign promises, and it is up to Georgia to give him that ability.
Chris Delaney is a freshman in the McDonough School of Business. Finding the Balance appears online every other Tuesday.