On Jan. 4, a worrying precedent was set in the U.S. Senate. The 1.9 trillion stimulus package, proposed by President Joe Biden, was voted precisely 50/50 by the Senate on party lines, leaving the final decision up to Vice President Kamara Harris. Harris voted for the package, but the deep divide between parties was perhaps the clearest since the 2013 debt ceiling crisis.
With Democrats having a technical Senate majority for the first time since 2008, it presents the party with an opportunity not seen in over a decade. With this opportunity and less than two years before 14 Democrat seats and 20 Republican seats will be up for election, the Democrats will have to decide whether to focus on their ideological goals or bipartisan cooperation. They should choose bipartisanship, both for the average American’s sake, and theirs.
In the lead up to the stimulus package, White House press secretary Jen Psaki stated that according to the polls American voters supported the stimulus package, regardless of party. While Psaki used this to discredit criticism that the “White House was sacrificing bipartisan solidarity for partisan celerity,” as the New York Times phrased it, this shows that most Americans would rather have a stimulus package than a partisan mess.
A poll by Monmouth University found that 71% of participants want Republicans in Congress to work with Biden rather than simply “keeping [him] in check”, up from 62% in November. Extending beyond simply Biden, the poll found that a sizable chunk of Americans want bipartisanship, regardless of political party.
“The desire for bipartisan cooperation is higher than it was just after the November election (62%), and includes 41% of Republicans (up from 28% in November) as well as 70% of independents (68%) and 94% of Democrats (92%),” the poll finds.
Embracing bipartisan cooperation would also be necessary to maintain the Senate majority. For the 2022 midterm elections, 34 seats are up for election, with 14 of them being Democrats’ seats. Notable states whose seats are up for election are Michigan, Minnesota, Virginia, and Maine: they are not only flip states from as recently as 2012, but many of which were notorious in the 2020 election for how unpredictable their vote would be. If the Democrats want to keep or win these states, they will need to show they can cooperate with Republicans and make center policy. A similar situation exists in the House where, despite still holding a majority, the Democrats lost seats in 2020 to the point where they barely have a simple majority (222 Democrats versus 213 Republicans). The possibility of the Democrats losing the House is closer than it has been since the early 2010s, and if they wish to keep their majority, they will have to appeal to moderate conservatives in their districts and typically conservative districts.
Bipartisan cooperation is the best move the Democrats can make if they want to keep their power and appeal to Americans. Whether or not they cooperate with Republicans will be seen throughout the next two years.