Senate Democrats emboldened by their electoral prospects are quietly haggling over what the agenda for next year should be if they gain control of Congress and the White House in 2021.
The top priority of Democrats is to pour federal resources into combatting the coronavirus and the economic devastation it has caused, lawmakers say.
Private discussions are also taking place over whether to eliminate or reform the legislative filibuster, which sets up a 60-vote threshold to pass most major legislation through the Senate.
“The first fight is going to be about the filibuster in the Senate. That will happen even before they convene,” said Robert Borosage, co-founder of Campaign for America’s Future, a liberal advocacy group. “There’s going to be a lot of organizing out in the grassroots on that — that will start even before the election — to push the senators that say they want not to [reform] it.”
Beyond that, there’s little agreement over whether to move next to immigration reform, gun control, legislation to address climate change or health care reform. Other Democratic priorities on the table include tax reform, housing reform, voting rights legislation and campaign finance reform.
Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinHillicon Valley: Russia ‘amplifying’ concerns around mail-in voting to undermine election | Facebook and Twitter take steps to limit Trump remarks on voting | Facebook to block political ads ahead of election Top Democrats press Trump to sanction Russian individuals over 2020 election interference efforts Overnight Defense: US sanctions ICC prosecutor amid probe of alleged US war crimes in Afghanistan | Senators urge Pentagon to keep Stars and Stripes running MORE (D-Calif.), who is poised to become chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee if Democrats win the majority, sees guns as the No. 1 issue.
“It’s guns,” she said in an interview before the August recess. “That’s my biggest concern.”
Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinHillicon Valley: Russia ‘amplifying’ concerns around mail-in voting to undermine election | Facebook and Twitter take steps to limit Trump remarks on voting | Facebook to block political ads ahead of election Democrats urge CDC to update guidance to encourage colleges, universities go tobacco-free Top Democrats press Trump to sanction Russian individuals over 2020 election interference efforts MORE (Ill.) and Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenators ask for removal of tariffs on EU food, wine, spirits: report VOA visa decision could hobble Venezuela coverage Bottom line MORE (D-N.J.), meanwhile, want to make immigration reform and protecting immigrants who came to the country illegally as children from deportation a top priority.
Durbin says that Joe BidenJoe BidenTed Cruz, longtime fan of ‘The Princess Bride,’ swipes at cast members’ plans to reunite to raise money for Democrats What Joe Biden owes Kenosha Trump casts wide net in Labor Day press conference MORE, the Democratic presidential nominee, and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSchumer calls for investigation into reports of campaign finance improprieties by DeJoy’s former company Companies developing COVID-19 vaccines planning to issue joint safety pledge Schumer calls for accountability in Daniel Prude death in Rochester MORE (D-N.Y.) have both committed to putting immigration reform at the top of the legislative calendar next year.
“They’ve all said it’s first up,” Durbin told The Hill earlier this summer.
Other Senate Democrats are pushing other issues.
Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayOvernight Defense: US, Russia trade blame over Syria incident | Pentagon calls out China’s ‘counterproductive’ military exercises, missile test | Democrats press Esper on COVID-19 response Democrats press Esper on ‘concerning’ rise in Pentagon’s COVID-19 cases Pelosi huddles with chairmen on surprise billing but deal elusive MORE (D-Wash.), who is poised to become chairwoman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said “paid sick leave” and “funding for childcare” are essential priorities.
“We need to address the needs families who are working today. They are under complete stress right now trying to work at home and educate their kids,” she said.
Murray said health care is also “a huge issue,” and promised action on access and affordability.
Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenFive things to know about Trump’s payroll tax deferral House Democrat offers measures to block Trump’s payroll tax deferral Hillicon Valley: Russia ‘amplifying’ concerns around mail-in voting to undermine election | Facebook and Twitter take steps to limit Trump remarks on voting | Facebook to block political ads ahead of election MORE (D-Ore.), who would be slated to become chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has been working this Congress on legislation to reduce the cost of prescription drugs and is expected to take the lead on the issue if Democrats regain the majority.
Wyden had been working with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySenate Democrats take step toward vote on overturning Trump’s payroll-tax deferral Trump payroll tax deferral finds few takers among businesses Democrats flubbed opportunity to capitalize on postal delays MORE (R-Iowa) on a bill to lower pharmaceutical drug costs but withdrew his name from the measure in June.
Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownHillicon Valley: Russia ‘amplifying’ concerns around mail-in voting to undermine election | Facebook and Twitter take steps to limit Trump remarks on voting | Facebook to block political ads ahead of election Top Democrats press Trump to sanction Russian individuals over 2020 election interference efforts Trump eviction ban tests limits of CDC authority MORE (D-Ohio), who would become chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, says he wants to make housing the primary focus of his committee next year if Democrats are in the majority.
“There’s talk all the time about the agenda next year,” he said. “More than just undoing the bad things Trump’s done.”
He said his priorities are “housing, housing, housing” and the Pro Act — legislation to make it easier for labor unions to organize. It would strengthen workers’ right to organize and bargain for better wages, and establish penalties for corporations that violate these rights.
Labor advocates are also pushing for reform to enable workers to bargain across an entire sector, such as the steel industry, instead of on a factory-by-factory basis.
Given the cluster of bills competing for Senate floor time and attention, Democratic senators are talking about the need to be able to tackle multiple major issues simultaneously in 2021.
Democrats say they made a mistake by spending months and months of President Obama’s first two years in office focusing mainly on three priorities: fiscal stimulus legislation, the Affordable Care Act, and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act.
Senate action on immigration reform and climate legislation was put on the back burner in 2009 and 2010. When Republicans captured control of the House in the 2010 midterm election, Democratic hopes of doing anything meaningful on those two issues in the near future evaporated.
Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senate Democrats map out climate change strategy | Green groups challenge Trump plan to open 82 percent of Alaska reserve to drilling | 87 lawmakers ask EPA to reverse course after rescinding methane regulations Senate Democrats map out climate change strategy Lobbying world MORE (D-Hawaii) is pushing climate change legislation.
“For me, it’s climate,” he said when asked about his top priority for a Democratic-controlled Senate.
“The conversations are preliminary,” he said of the talk about next year’s agenda, noting that Biden is still putting together his own list of legislative priorities and many Democratic lawmakers don’t want to get too far ahead of themselves, especially after Trump’s 2016 upset.
“I think there was a little too much of that in 2016,” he said of the legislative planning ahead of what was expected to be a Clinton victory. “It’s all moot if we lose so it’s a balancing act between being ready to roll and making sure we win this [darn] thing.”
Schatz, who chairs a special committee created last year to study the climate crisis, has pushed investment firms to help mitigate climate change by using their investment portfolios to stop tropical deforestation. He’s also co-sponsored legislation to assess a fee on fossil fuels and other sources of greenhouse gases.
Democratic lawmakers caution that much of their first year in power — should they win control of the White House and Senate — will be spent unwinding Trump’s policies and overhauling what they say has been Trump’s inadequate and disorganized response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I also think given the amount of damage Trump has done, we can’t afford to do one thing per year. That’s like if your house was burned down and you said, ‘Let’s just fix the kitchen,’” Schatz said.