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New President and Senate Could Mean Big Changes

Should Democrats take one or two of the executive branches in the November 2020 election, the expectation is that many of the reasons for protests demanding action for climate justice will be addressed by a more broadminded administration. Credit Joe Brusky

Polling for current President Donald Trump is dismal. Numbers show his Democratic opponent Joe Biden ahead nationally by double digits and ahead in most battleground states. Biden is even putting up a good fight in states like Georgia and Texas, which normally vote solidly Republican. The polls look so obvious that pollster Frank Luntz told reporters if predictions are wrong in 2020 and Trump actually manages to win, his “profession is done.” (Reminder: Most people, including pollsters, had already given the election to Hillary Clinton in 2016 so make of this what you will.)

With the 2020 presidential race presumably in the bag for Democrats, many political observers are moving on to Democrats’ chances of taking the Senate, which are fairly good according to poll counter FiveThirtyEight. Back in September, former Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid was predicting a Senate  switch—and Reid and Democrats rarely get optimistic about anything after Trump fooled everybody and nabbed a surprise victory in 2016.

Election forecasters like “The Economist” gave Democrats a 76 percent chance of taking control of the Senate two weeks before the election, which was a 5 percent increase from a week ago, when the “The Economist” gave them a 71 percent chance. “Decision Desk,” meanwhile, gives Democrats an 83.5 percent chance of winning a majority in the Senate and a greater than 99 percent chance of keeping the House. (We might as well just say 100 percent, at this point.) Join that with Democrats’ 83.6 percent chance of whupping Trump, and the party is suddenly looking at the possibility of controlling all three federal bodies in November.

What could happen under a Democratic-led House, Senate and White House? Democrats are already making predictions.

House Resolution 1 The “For the People Act,” also known as H.R. 1, tumbled out of the House in 2019, mere weeks after Democrats took the House in the 2018 elections. House Resolution 1 contains a wide array of reforms designed to facilitate voting. It bypasses countless impediments to voter registration erected by GOP-led state legislatures and establishes automatic voter registration for all Americans. The bill also makes Election Day a national holiday, and it puts the kibosh on partisan gerrymandering, which we at The Lighthouse has called out time and time again for stifling democracy. Additionally, it forces all presidents to disclose their tax returns, and it promises to take some of the money out of politics by establishing and strengthening a public-financing system for federal campaigns.

As popular as some of these reforms are, not a single member of the Republican Party voted to support H.R. 1 in the House, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made a point to block it from even getting a vote on the Senate floor.

Affordable Care Act Blocking popular bills is nothing new in the Senate, of course. Leadership also voted as a bloc not to support the Affordable Care Act, and famously fashioned themselves as “the party of no” under President Barack Obama. If Biden’s own words are an indicator, Democrats in the House and Senate are likely to pass some kind of amendment to the Affordable Care Act, however, which will provide a “public option, like Medicare” for insurance. Biden referenced the public option during the October presidential debates and describes it as a federally supplemented and monitored insurance plan for people who cannot afford private insurance. It will also serve as an option for people who are unemployed or contract workers whose job does not offer an insurance.

If the public option is anything like Medicare, as Biden suggests, it will be able to provide a high level of coverage at a comparatively low cost, because Medicare uses its sheer leverage to reimburse providers at lower rates than private health plans. Employees at smaller businesses would probably dump their provider and go with the public option under those conditions.

Critics in the insurance industry consider every “public option” proposal a threat to private health insurance because profit-driven insurance companies simply can’t afford to compete with a federally-funded option. Last year, groups like Aetna and Cigna dumped untold millions of dollars into a successful effort to kill a statewide public option in Connecticut, despite exploding medical costs in that state. All their lobbying will be undone, however, if the federal government jumps in and offers a cheaper alternative.

52 States? Another distinct possibility under a Democrat-led House and Senate is statehood for largely-Black Washington D.C., and possibly even for Puerto Rico, if island residents agree to it. The Lighthouse covered the possibility of D.C. statehood back in June, and the prospect gets closer to reality if Senate polls prove accurate.

Unlike the rest of the nation, DC and Puerto Rico residents pay taxes but do not get to elect representatives in the Senate. Critics say this is the very essence of “taxation without representation” and hotly contest it. More than 60 percent of U.S. adults oppose D.C. statehood, according to a Gallup poll, but Washington residents say it is past time for them to get the same democracy as everybody else in the nation.

“Statehood is the only thing that will put the 700,000 residents of the district of Columbia on equal footing with the residents of the 50 states,” said Josh Burch, founder of Neighbors United for DC statehood. “Statehood is the only thing that gives us equitable representation in Congress and it’s the only thing that can give us autonomy over our affairs.”

Climate Change Climate change is also expected to finally take front seat in a Biden and Democrat-led administration. Biden’s “Build Back Better” economic-recovery proposal already predicts solid investment in clean energy sources, and seeks to roll back and eventually end fossil fuel-based energy by the middle of the century.

Supreme Court Less clear is what could become of the U.S. Supreme Court. Even as the 2020 election winds to a close, the GOP is intent on remaking the Supreme Court in its own image with the appointment of conservative ideologues to the court. With an expected 6-to-3 conservative majority, politicos expect vote protection laws and Roe v. Wade to either die outright or be picked to pieces by new judges who were vetted specifically to oppose Roe. Amy Comey Barrett, SCOTUS’ newest sitting member, recently refused to declare voter intimidation illegal, and she will be joining a court which has already agreed to let the Trump administration prematurely shut down the US Census in a blatant effort to undercount minority communities and hamper their political clout.

The court regularly allows anti-democratic officials to pick away at voter protections, with one study uncovering that “Republican appointees interpreted the law in a way that impeded ballot access 80 percent of the time, versus 37 percent for Democratic ones.”

This trend will continue without intervention from a new administration and Senate.


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