Remembering Rudman & Dealmaking in Divided Government

Blog Post
Wednesday, November 11, 2020

On the latest Facing the Future, I was joined by Concord Coalition Executive Director, Bob Bixby, Policy Director, Tori Gorman, Jon Lieber, managing director with the Eurasia Group, and attorney Brad Cook. We discussed the leadership and legacy of the late U.S. Senator for New Hampshire, Warren B. Rudman, on the fortieth anniversary of his first campaign for the Senate, as well as the process and implications of policymaking in a potentially-divided federal government.

[Note: Portions of this week's Facing the Future can be seen in the video clips posted below.]

Cook said campaigning for the U.S. Senate was very different 40 years ago than it is now. The primary and general election campaign cost about $600,000, while in a recent competitive U.S. Senate race in New Hampshire the combined spending of both major-party candidates reached roughly $17 million. 

Ultimately successful in that 1980 race, Rudman went on to be a productive member of the Senate that worked across party lines. He opted not to seek re-election to a third-term, a race many thought he would win, because he campaigned on and committed to only serving two terms.

Cook added that there were two things about working for Senator Rudman that were amazing: he got more out of the people that worked for him than they knew they could give and he had an impressive ability to quickly and effectively digest and communicate information. 

“He surrounded himself with very good people who knew how to come up with the details, and then he just had a knack - both interpersonally and intellectually - for getting things done because he minimized baloney, maximized facts and didn’t much care who was on what side of what,” Cook said.

 

Lieber joined the program to provide insight on what it might be like to engage in policymaking during a potentially divided federal government as we look ahead to the next presidential administration and a new Congress. 

He said that having a Democratic majority in the Senate “is the entire game” because controlling the Senate will be key to achieving the Biden administration’s policy agenda. 

Lieber added that reaching 50 seats in the Senate, while having Vice-President-Elect Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote, is probably the best case scenario for Democrats as we look ahead to the Georgia runoff elections in January. 

“If they have 50 votes, they can still pass budget bills through reconciliation, they can confirm most of Biden’s cabinet appointees without breaking a sweat,” Lieber said. “What they can’t do is some of the broader regulatory things … there’s non-budgetary things that would be priorities for Democrats if they had 53, 54 or 55 seats, that they won’t be able to accomplish with 50 or 51 seats.” 

He also gave examples of how, in years past, it was possible for elected leaders to find common ground and strike deals during periods of divided government. However, over the last decade, Lieber said that has gotten a lot harder. 

“Congress does fewer things,” he said. “And the things it does do either pass with 100-0 or 51-49 in the Senate, where it’s either super divided or easy, low-hanging, unanimous fruit.” 

“We use, at Eurasia Group, political trajectories that are designed to give a view of the contributions of policy and politics to market stability over a 6-month period and a 24-month period,” Lieber said. “We were at ‘positive’ over six months - because we expected stimulus - and ‘negative’ over 24 moths - because we expected new regulation and tax increases - but with divided government, we moved both of those trajectories to ‘neutral’ in anticipation of a more boring Washington.” 

He added that the most likely scenario is gridlock over the next two years. However, that could change depending upon the final make-up of the U.S. Senate, which would enable President-Elect Biden to pursue a more aggressive agenda. 

Listen to hear more of Lieber’s take on what the next couple years of policymaking could look like. 

 

Hear more on Facing the Future. I host the program each week on WKXL, NHTalkRadio.com (N.H.), and it is also available via podcast. Join me and my guests as we discuss issues relating to national fiscal policy with budget experts, industry leaders and elected officials. Past broadcasts are available here. You can subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, Google Play Music or with an RSS feed. Follow Facing the Future on Facebook and watch videos from past episodes on The Concord Coalition YouTube channel.