Democratic policy post 2010

I'm not really sure if this is a chat question or is distant enough gone that it'll be allowed, but I've been working on a timeline in which the Democrats keep control of the House and Senate in 2010, and have hit a roadblock as I'm not exactly sure what kinds of bills they might go forward with after getting re-elected, as obviously historically we know that the GOP blocked almost everything and I was a small child when all this went down.

Any thoughts/suggestions? I'll post the numbers for the House/Senate below.

House:
Dem 226 - Rep 209
Democratic losses are in the sunbelt/rustbelt for the most part.

Senate:
Dem 55 - Rep 43 - Ind 2
Republican net gain 1 seat

Seats changing hands:
Kentucky - Jack Conway def. Rand Paul. Democratic gain.
North Dakota - John Hooven def. Tracy Potter. Republican Gain
Arkansas - John Boozman def. Bill Halter. Republican Gain

The loss in Kentucky and general better performance is down to Osama Bin Laden's assassination in October of 2010, after files recovered by the CIA during the second battle of Swat unveil just where it is his compound is located.
 
You probably don't have big enough majorities for anything very ambitious, but with the Bush tax cuts expiring there would be an imperative to reform the tax code. The most likely result is allowing the tax cuts for the wealthy to expire, and closing some loopholes in the corporate tax code to decrease the deficit.
 
In place of the OTL late 2012 tax deal, you'd see a higher top marginal rate and maybe a somewhat lower top bracket.

Top priorities for 2011-2013 would probably be additional stimulus, transportation and infrastructure spending, some changes / additions to the ACA (boosting subsidies, fixing the Medicaid family glitch, probably some changes to entice states to adopt Medicaid after the 2012 Supreme Court ruling), college tuition, child care, and the Employee Non-Discrimination Act. A renewed effort at the DREAM Act at least, otherwise comprehensive immigration reform. (Though that might wait for the second term.) Cap and trade is dead after 2010, but you could well get an ambitious energy bill.

2013-2015 would likely see a push for tightening gun control (along the lines of the Toomey-Manchin bill OTL). Also likely is comprehensive immigration reform. OTL the veto player was the House GOP not the Senate. (Comprehensive deal passed with 70+ Senate votes.) So decent odds that a comprehensive immigration deal could get through. Other potential areas for legislation include areas issues the Obama Admin acted or attempted to act through Executive Branch rulemaking, such as expanded Overtime Rules.
 
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In place of the OTL late 2012 tax deal, you'd see a higher top marginal rate and maybe a somewhat lower top bracket.

Top priorities for 2011-2013 would probably be additional stimulus, transportation and infrastructure spending, some changes / additions to the ACA (boosting subsidies, fixing the Medicaid glitch, probably some changes to entice states to adopt Medicaid after the 2012 Supreme Court ruling), college tuition, child care, and the Employee Non-Discrimination Act. A renewed effort at the DREAM Act at least, otherwise comprehensive immigration reform. (Though that might wait for the second term.) Cap and trade is dead after 2010, but you could well get an ambitious energy bill.

2013-2015 would likely see a push for tightening gun control (along the lines of the Toomey-Manchin bill OTL). Also likely is comprehensive immigration reform. OTL the veto player was the House GOP not the Senate. (Comprehensive deal passed with 70+ Senate votes.) So decent odds that a comprehensive immigration deal could get through. Other potential areas for legislation include areas issues the Obama Admin acted or attempted to act through Executive Branch rulemaking, such as expanded Overtime Rules.
I'm going to get in here on the ACA as this is a core part of my research agenda--- nothing that needs to pass via regular order is going to get 60 votes in the Senate in a world where the Democrats have 51 to 59 seats on January 4, 2011 and 218 seats in the House.

So this limits what can be done via reconciliation. Reconciliation can do funding but it can not be used to create new regulatory policy (yeah, this is a fine distinction that the Senate Parliamentarian can rule on and then be overruled, but it is a real constraint if we assume that there are at least half a dozen institutional conservatives in the Democratic cauvus) Upping subsidies is easy enough. Probably fixing the family glitch is easy enough. Medicaid is questionable. Upping the federal FMAP to a permanent 100% or keeping the FMAP on a path to wind down to 90% but increasing Legacy Medicaid FMAP by a 3% bonus bump conditional on Expansion could be done. Big problem in 2011-2012 is that Medicaid expansion as a voluntary concept is not on the radar screen for liberal policy makers. They thought, with good cause, that the NFIB challenge to expansion was a legal and logical farce and that expansion was going to happen in all 50 states plus DC.

The odds of major Medicaid policy making before NFIB is dropped is fairly low as Senate Dems had good reason to think that they had just completed their big Medicaid reform piece for the decade and the window to get it through an omnibus in the Lame Duck is also fairly low.
 
I'm going to get in here on the ACA as this is a core part of my research agenda--- nothing that needs to pass via regular order is going to get 60 votes in the Senate in a world where the Democrats have 51 to 59 seats on January 4, 2011 and 218 seats in the House.
This was all really interesting, is there any chance you could expand on just how all of this would work, I'm interested in American politics in the election maps sense but if I write an actual political timeline I want it to be as 'realistic' as I can really make it, and I've no clue how reconciliation and the like are supposed to work.
 
This was all really interesting, is there any chance you could expand on just how all of this would work, I'm interested in American politics in the election maps sense but if I write an actual political timeline I want it to be as 'realistic' as I can really make it, and I've no clue how reconciliation and the like are supposed to work.
Yep, will do tomorrow
 
Yep, will do tomorrow
Okay, let's talk Senate procedure. The short version is that constitutionally, the 50%+1 Senators can, if they so choose, do whatever the hell they want with a few limitations; they can't ratify a treaty (67%), remove an official due to impeachment (67%) or initiate a revenue bill. Beyond that, 50%+1 Senators are theoretically unconstrained. However majorities don't act that way; instead they have created rules that can be used by local minorities against current majorities as most Senators will be in a future minority at some point. The big one in question here is the rule on cloture/ending debate which is what breaks a filibuster. At the time in question, cloture to end debate could only be invoked with 60 affirmative votes. That means an organized and aggrieved minority with 40+ votes can talk until they turn blue, tag out to a teammate and keep on talking about whatever the hell they wanted. This is filibustering. It is designed to kill unfavored bills/proposals/nominations by forcing the majority to burn Senate floor time on a lost cause.
Filibustering in the US Senate context was mainly used to kill civil rights bills. It has become more common in the past two generations for regular bills to be filibustered.

Now let's go back to reconciliation. The US budget process is messy at the best of times. The 1974 Congressional Budget Act wanted to clean up the budgeting process. One of the problems its writers saw was that housekeeping bills could be tied up in filibusters. They created a new procedure where a bill that only touched taxes OR spending would clear the Senate at 50%+1 of actual votes instead of needing to clear a 60% hurdle. A reconciliation bill has several steps. First there needs to be an agreed upon budget resolution that directs certain committees to come up with a list of policies that will save/spend a certain amount of money (either a floor or a ceiling). This usuall happens in January or February. Then the House passes their version of the bill, the Senate either concurs or amends on a 50%+1 basis. If there is disagreement, the bill is sent to conference, again on a 50%+1 to smooth out the differences between the House and Senate versions, and then the final, unified bill is voted on by both chambers on a 50%+1 basis. (Mostly cribbed from this Congressional Research Service report: https://www.everycrsreport.com/reports/RL33030.html)

Reconciliation is powerful. It is limited. 2 reconciliations bills can be entered per year; one for taxes and one for spending. Reconciliation has significant limitations. It can not touch Social Security, nor increase the deficit outside of the 10 year window, nor create new policy. The last part is fuzzy as spending is policy and good lawyer can probably craft a convoluted enough mechanism to funnel money through existing programs to create new policy.

Reconciliation is also optional. It is less likely to be used when the control of Congress is divided as anything that passes is likely to have the agreement of both parties' senior leadership.

So in a world where the Senate rules requires 60 votes to proceed in regular order and there is a 43-47 vote minority that is disciplined in opposing anything more complex than renaming post office builidngs, reconciliation is the one major law making opportunity available to a modest majority with unified control of the House and the Senate. In your scenario, Democrats will have passed the ACA and have a modest majority 2011-2013. Reconciliation is their one shot for major action before the 2012 general election. The question is would Democrats use their reconciliation options in 2011 for healthcare? I would bet no as there was massive fatigue from getting the ACA over the finish line and a lot of problems that plenty of Democratic Senators and Representatives wanted to solve were deferred to get healthcare done. Perhaps there would be a sidecar in a broadband or a green energy reconciliation bill to do a little ACA clean-up but any 2011 reconciliation bills would not be ACA focused.

In 2012, the budget resolutions would have been passed well before NFIB v Sibelius was decided.

The mechanics and the appetite to do something big again on insurance coverage is not there until probably 2013 and then it is likely going to be a fix-it bill for the CLASS ACT (long term care component of the ACA that never was implemented as it never made actuarial sense), Medicaid, family glitch and technical corrections.
 
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