Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has enjoyed a string of recent legislative victories just a few months before the midterm elections. But it remains to be seen whether those victories will help Democrats retain control of the Senate in an election cycle analysts predict will favor Republicans.
Kyle Kondik, managing editor for Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, told the Washington Examiner that “historically speaking, legislative achievements for the party in power generally don’t help them in midterms.”
“And in fact, it’s much more common to be hurt by various pieces of legislation because the opposition party is able to, you know, galvanize opposition to whatever gets passed,” Kondik said.
In recent weeks, the Senate passed both the CHIPS Act, a bill aimed at helping the U.S. microprocessing industry compete against China, and the PACT Act, veterans healthcare legislation, on a bumpy but ultimately bipartisan basis. The Senate also recently passed bipartisan mental health and gun safety legislation after several recent mass shootings.
But then, Senate Democrats unilaterally passed the Inflation Reduction Act over the weekend, a reconciliation bill not bound by the upper chamber’s filibuster.
The bill, the result of an initial deal struck by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Schumer and later Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), is a scaled-back version of the Build Back Better Act, a sweeping social spending and green energy bill Senate Democrats failed to pass last year.
Senate Democrats were able to pass the new bill over the weekend with only their slim majority in the 50-50 chamber due to Vice President Kamala Harris’s tiebreaking vote. It will be considered by the House this week.
The bill’s passage in the Senate marked a huge political victory for Democrats and their Senate leader. Democrats intend to campaign on these accomplishments during the midterm election season and hope the string of wins will boost President Joe Biden’s lackluster poll numbers. Schumer dubbed the legislation a “game changer.”
Kondik said the bill might contribute to a modest bump in Biden’s approval ratings but would be unlikely to sway voters unless the day-to-day realities of inflation were to change.
“I think in some ways, a lot of times with economic indicators, the cake of public perception is baked months before the election,” he said.
Kondik called it “an unusual time” for Democrats to have “unified power in Washington but for their majorities in both chambers to be very small.” He noted that the converse happened in that the government elected in the 2000 election was “pretty similar in that it was 50-50 Senate and the Republican House majority was very small.”
Though the first Bush term was dominated by 9/11 and other issues of foreign policy, there were some bipartisan measures to come out of that time in the evenly split Senate, such as the bipartisan No Child Left Behind education legislation, which was backed by the late Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy.
The string of recent legislative successes comes after a long dry spell for Senate Democrats in which the party failed to clear a number of policy priorities over the finish line, including the Women’s Health Protection Act and voting rights legislation. A number of what Schumer called “accountability votes” on measures including the abortion rights bill failed to clear the chamber, which may have added to impressions of disunity in the party.
“He must not feel like he’s creating extra vulnerability for Mark Kelly or Raphael Warnock on certain things,” Kondik said of two Democratic Senators facing tough elections in Arizona and Georgia.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee argued in a statement that the Senate’s passage of the Manchin-Schumer deal is proof that the chamber’s Democrats are “just rubber stamps for President Joe Biden’s reckless agenda.”
But former Obama adviser David Axelrod argued in a tweet shortly before the bill’s passage that the political winds may be shifting for Biden and his party.
Politics is a fickle business. Two months ago, the buzz on @JoeBiden was universally bad. Now he’s riding a string of major legislative wins, the elimination of the AQ leader & continued strong hiring picture.
Will poll numbers follow?
— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) August 5, 2022
“Politics is a fickle business,” he wrote.