Senate Split Likely to Draw Policy Toward the Center

For months now, US political watchers have been focused on the first week of January 2021. It was clear this week would be politically significant, with the new Congress convening January 3, Georgia’s January 5 runoff elections set to determine party control of the Senate, and Congressional confirmation of the Electoral College vote on January 6. But the shocking events in our Capitol on January 6 were more than the nation and the world could have anticipated.

Ultimately, our democratic institutions prevailed over chaos, and two months after the November elections, the political environment is finally coming into focus. Joe Biden’s presidential win was officially confirmed, and two Democrat victories in Georgia create a 50-50 split in the Senate. With Vice President Harris as the tiebreaker, Democrats gain control of the legislative branch.

Here are our thoughts on what the 50-50 split in the Senate might mean for the Biden administration’s agenda.

How a 50-50 split can work

A 50-50 split has happened before, but it is not common. The last time the Senate was evenly split between the two parties was in 2001. Republican leader Trent Lott of Mississippi and Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota cut a power-sharing deal that divided the committees and their resources evenly. Because Republican Vice President Dick Cheney could still break a tie, Republicans had control. Even so, the even split gave the opposition party significant power, but Republicans were still able to pass a $1.3 trillion tax cut, the No Child Left Behind Act, and a big boost to the defense budget.

We could see similar developments this time, but it would require a push to the center.