Now that we know that Democrats will have a majority in the United States Senate, a few key aspects of the new landscape on Capitol Hill (and the rest of the federal government) have become increasingly clear.

With their grasp on power so tenuous, Democrats have been open to negotiating a power-sharing agreement with minority Republicans, just as happened the last time the U.S. Senate was evenly split. That means not only that liberals won’t to accomplish radical changes overnight, but also that Republicans will be forced – at least to some degree – to play a responsible role in governing.

That’s quite a turnabout from the last time Republicans were in the minority, for the first two years of Barack Obama’s first term. Back then, they were able to essentially oppose Obama’s entire legislative agenda, especially the Affordable Care Act. Their opposition paid political dividends, too, as it helped lead to the creation of the tea party movement and the Republican Party’s recapture of both the Senate and the House in 2010.

In an evenly divided Senate, though, Republicans will have a say in what legislation makes it to the floor and what doesn’t, and they won’t always be able to just say “no.” Clearly, most voters and members of Congress in both parties are ready to negotiate another stimulus package. While Joe Biden recently unveiled his vision for what next round of aid should be, his framework will only serve as a launching point for Congress.

It was illustrative how Maine’s congressional delegation reacted to Biden’s proposal: Chellie Pingree enthusiastically supported it, Jared Golden said he’d review it, Angus King supported it and Susan Collins expressed conditional support with some reservations. For Collins, the biggest issue with the proposal was raising the minimum wage: Although she wasn’t totally opposed to the idea (unlike quite a few of her Republican colleagues), she wasn’t ready to go right to $15 an hour.

Outside Maine, another reaction to watch for is that of Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. He expressed concerns that the first two rounds of stimulus checks hadn’t targeted those who truly needed it. That’s certainly a fair point, and one that more members of Congress on both sides of the aisle may begin to embrace in the coming weeks. Hopefully, the Biden administration will try to find a way to alleviate the concerns of both Collins and Manchin, as that could lead to greater bipartisan support for additional stimulus. If that’s how the negotiations revolve around this bill, it could be a preview of things to come.

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It might be a surprise that Manchin’s concerns about the stimulus payments would matter so much, since Collins wasn’t the only Republican to support $2,000 checks before the election. Indeed, if all of the Republicans who supported larger checks last year maintained that position, Biden could completely ignore Manchin’s concerns about the payments not being targeted. Even just a few Republicans jumping ship to support new direct payments would be enough to make Manchin’s objections a moot point.

Whether that will actually happen is a good question. Having run the deficit and the debt up over the past four years whenever Donald Trump wanted to spend money, many of Collins’ colleagues seem to suddenly be rediscovering their inner fiscal conservative. This is hardly unprecedented: Republicans in Washington often seem to care about the deficit only when Democrats are in the White House.

While it’s reasonable for some of them to want to spend less money than the Democrats, it’s not reasonable for them to act is if adding one single more dime to the deficit is a bridge too far. It’s also not reasonable for Republicans to refuse to negotiate on the bill at all simply because they dislike parts of it.

The challenge for Mitch McConnell will be just how large the “just say no” portion of his caucus is. In an evenly divided Senate, he can’t let the naysayers run the show. Instead, he’ll have to rely on Republicans like Collins like and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney to get things done. While Republicans should certainly have lines they won’t cross, they should be willing to work with the Biden administration.

Striking that balance won’t be easy for McConnell, but hopefully, for both the good of the country and the future of the Republican Party, he can make it work. With the recent tumult and division, voters might be more willing to reward practical politicians rather than grandstanding extremists.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: jimfossel

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