Could Dems Actually Expand Their Majorities?

I’m starting to think that Joe Biden could pull off the near impossible. I no longer think that it’s out of the question that his party will hold on to — or even expand — their slim majorities in Congress next year.

In the 21 mid-term elections since 1934 there have been only two in which the party in power added seats in Congress. Those elections were in 1998, when Bill Clinton was facing impeachment over what many Americans thought was a personal transgression with Monica Lewinsky, and 2002, when the country was rallying around George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks.

The last one before those two might be most relevant. Franklin Roosevelt’s Democrats picked up nine seats in the House and nine in the Senate in 1934 as a result of public approval over FDR’s dramatic expansion of the social safety net in the wake of the Great Depression.

Biden seems to have tapped into a similar vein of emerging support for a more active Federal government 86 years later. He has already delivered with his $1.9 trillion COVID relief package and he has proposed sweeping initiatives in his $2.3 trillion American Jobs (infrastructure) Plan and his $1.8 trillion American Families Plan.

Because these plans can be passed through budget reconciliation in the Senate, he doesn’t need — and probably won’t get — any Republican votes. As James Carville has pointed out, the Democrats can be as liberal as Sen. Joe Manchin will let them be. In the end, I would guess that Manchin won’t want to be the guy who holds up these plans, though he may demand some scaling back — as well as some nice stuff for his home state of West Virginia.

In 1934 FDR expanded his majorities in Congress. In 21 mid-term elections since then, it has only happened two more times,

In other words, Americans will see the direct benefits of all this spending well before the November, 2022 mid-term elections. Families will already see direct payments each month for each child as part of the COVID plan. Assuming the other two plans pass largely intact, they’ll also see expanded help for child care, pre-K and free community college, expanded broadband coverage, new roads, bridges and mass transit options and a whole lot more.

These will be big, tangible improvements in the lives of average Americans. Contrast that with Obamacare, which also represented big improvements, but which didn’t take effect until after the 2010 mid-terms. Also, contrast Biden’s aggressive salesmanship of his plans with the Obama administration’s lax approach to explaining the benefits of Obamacare.

And then there’s the change in the Republican Party. It no longer has its heart in fighting big government. The party is now all about cultural grievance and loyalty to one man. It’s telling that the party didn’t even bother to write a platform at its last convention. The Republicans are just the cult of Trump, not a place for people who actually care about smaller government. I can’t see the GOP coming together to effectively turn Biden’s successes into liabilities the way they did with Obama in 2010.

The odds are still against the Democrats. A record of 2-19 for the party in power is not encouraging. And, thanks to the Dems’ underperformance in 2020 legislative races, Republicans control redistricting for three times more House seats. But if voters see the clear, strong, tangible benefits of their programs, it may be more like 1934 than 2010 for Biden’s party.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

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