Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is planning a big change for the body this fall: actual legislative work. Until now, his focus primarily has been on confirming President Joe Biden’s nominees. When the Senate returns from celebrating Independence Day over the next three weeks, the focus will shift to legislative business—not just the must-pass spending bills to keep government open and other necessities, but some bipartisan legislation that should put Democrats on better footing for a tough 2024 battle ahead.
The election map next year is not favorable to Democrats. Schumer’s calculation in setting an ambitious agenda ahead of it seems two-fold: create an opportunity for a Democratic-majority Senate to bank key accomplishments to run on, and force Republicans to decide whether they should block other Republicans’ pet legislation. The strategy has another upside: showcasing just how much the Republican-led House is mired in carrying out Donald Trump’s revenge agenda of impeachment—and impeachment-expunging—nonsense.
Schumer told Politico that there are a “bunch of Republicans” who want to work with Democrats to get their stuff through. “Legislating in the Senate with the rules we have is not easy, right? But if you push ahead, we’re going to get some good things done.” That’s Schumer setting the challenge for Republicans on the filibuster. Either they can give their Republican colleagues actual achievements to run on, even though it also helps Democrats, or they can be like the House Freedom Caucus and shut everything down.
Regulating artificial intelligence is just one example of legislation Schumer is working on with Indiana Republican Sen. Todd Young and Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota. Another is a bipartisan effort from the two Montanans, Democrat Jon Tester and Republican Steve Daines. It would open up financial institutions to marijuana-based businesses in states where it’s been legalized. That’s a great one for Schumer to push. Tester is up for reelection in 2024 in red Montana and his colleague Daines is in charge of Republican Senate campaigns for the cycle. That puts Daines in a tricky position.
Republicans are already arguing among themselves over another bill Schumer will bring up, a rail safety effort that Ohio Sens. Republican J.D. Vance and Democrat Sherrod Brown have jointly worked on for the upcoming session. Brown is also up for reelection this cycle. The two teamed up after the catastrophic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. The legislation is drawing criticism from other Republicans, including Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, part of Mitch McConnell’s leadership team. He says it’s too heavy on regulation.
Those bills are in addition to the legislation that will take up a good chunk of July and September, including the spending bills that absolutely must pass by the end of September to keep the government open. Expect the House/Senate divide to be dialed up to 10 by then. On top of that, the Senate must pass a reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, where there’s a partisan fight over how many hours pilots must train, and a farm bill to reauthorize Department of Agriculture programs for another five years. That’s going to create another intra-Republican fight as the House tries to severely cut food assistance programs and the Senate Republicans try to get one of their top priority packages through the quagmire.
Getting all these major bills done may or may not happen more easily with a charm offensive to certain Republican senators from Schumer. They’re going to have to weigh a lot of factors: do they give Democrats accomplishments if it helps them, too? Do they allow a bunch of ambitious bipartisan bills to pass, knowing that it will make the House Republicans look even worse when they fail to act? Will they work on winning over non-extremist Republicans in that body to actually pass legislation? We’ll find out soon enough if those so-called moderate Republicans even exist in the first place.
Ultimately, Schumer’s ambitious bipartisan agenda will likely put Senate Republicans in the position of either embracing House Republicans and their revenge agenda or splintering away to pass legislation. The gridlock could also put the filibuster in the spotlight again if Republicans block their own bills. That could help make the case for filibuster reform in 2025 if Democrats keep the majority.
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