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Opinion | Democrats Are About to Control Congress. What Will They Do?

“Biden will have a relatively easy time pushing through tax cuts he has proposed for modest earners and the middle class, such as expanding the child tax credit for the duration of the economic crisis, and permanent tax cuts to ease the burden of paying for health insurance, child care and a first home,” Yeganeh Torbati writes in The Washington Post. But when it comes to raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations, he may face pushback from conservative Democrats.

Health care: Proposals that aim to overhaul the country’s health insurance system, such as the creation of a public option that Mr. Biden has called for — to say nothing of the kind of Medicare-for-all plan progressives have championed — are likely to remain out of reach, my colleagues Sarah Kliff and Margot Sanger-Katz explain.

But a good deal of Mr. Biden’s health care plan — lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 60 from 65, expanding subsidies for the Affordable Care Act and extending coverage to low-income Americans in the 14 states that haven’t expanded Medicaid — are theoretically achievable via reconciliation.

As long as the filibuster exists, some of the most significant elements of the Democratic Party’s agenda are still likely to remain out of reach. Here are a few:

The last two items, in particular, would be necessary, if not sufficient, to offset the growing structural disadvantages that Democrats face in Congress. “With Democrats unlikely to get a 60-vote majority anytime soon,” Mr. Matthews writes, “that could mean the party’s structural problems will just keep getting worse.”

That prospect is one reason a growing number of Democrats, including Mr. Obama, have begun calling for the filibuster’s elimination. As Sven Steinmo and Jon Watts wrote in an influential 1995 academic article, “no other democratic system in the world requires support of 60 percent of legislators to pass government policy.”

The idea of doing away with this requirement has met resistance from conservative and progressive Democrats alike: “Having just lived through being in the minority and how destructive the 51-vote threshold has been for Supreme Court justices, I just want to think long and hard about it,” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand told Politico in 2019. More recently, however, both Senator Charles Schumer, the incoming majority leader, and Mr. Biden, who in years past defended the filibuster, have signaled their openness to eliminating it if, as Mr. Biden put it over the summer, there’s no other way to move.

Whatever positions Democrats have staked out before, the debate is almost certain to take on new salience having now exited the realm of the theoretical. “With unified Democratic control of government, there should be no excuses for bad or inadequate policy,” the political analyst Matt Bruenig tweeted. “They can get whatever they want done. If they don’t, it’s because at least some of them don’t want to.”

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