The 117th Congress got off to a bumpy start, but since then a bipartisan calm has settled over Capitol Hill. Even while lacking a final power-sharing agreement and new committee appointments, the Senate managed to work quietly and quickly to review and confirm President-elect Joe Biden’s national security team. Similar hearings and confirmations are planned for the new administration’s key economic and healthcare nominees, all apparently without the theatrics and tension that had come to embody recent years of legislating.
The Biden administration has outlined a bold and broad agenda, but is expected to get off to a slow start due to the need for dramatic policy shifts from the previous administration. During his first days in office, the 46th President sought to overcome some of the most immediate obstacles by enacting a series of Executive Orders on Democratic priorities ranging from the environment, to immigration, to healthcare and the COVID-19 response. For practical as much as political reasons, many of these “new” Executive Orders simply reset policy back to the standard during the Obama Era.
President Biden’s signature campaign priority, a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 response and economic stimulus package will require action by Congress. However, the path through negotiation to enactment became clearer on inauguration day when three new Democratic Senators were also sworn in, thus tipping majority control of the Senate to the Democrats. While bipartisan negotiation will be required on any final measure, the Democrats will have more leverage to advance the administration’s priorities while holding the gavels on committee of jurisdiction and exercising control over the legislative calendar.
It is important to note that this year, the President’s Budget Request to Congress, the symbolic start of the annual budget and appropriations process, is expected to be delayed. Congress is expected to swiftly move forward with the Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 appropriations bills though and simply address recommendations and priorities from the Biden administration as the process moves forward.