As a former college basketball player, Ron Wyden knows all about shot clocks.
In basketball, the clocks hang above the backboard on each side, showing players how much of the 24 seconds remain between taking possession of the ball and trying to score.
Democrats are facing a shot clock now: 14 months and ticking. That’s the time of possession remaining of assured Democratic control of The White House, The Senate, and the House before the next election on Nov. 8, 2022.
During a masked and socially distanced interview last week on the patio of a bakery in Eugene, Wyden, the Democratic U.S. Senator from Oregon, argued against letting clocks rule Congress.
“I am a contrarian on the idea that you can only do legislation in odd-numbered years because elections are in even-numbered years,” Wyden said. “The best politics is to do good policy that helps people.”
Wyden is well aware of the tenuous nature of Democrats’ majority, a status that includes his moving into the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, where much federal spending flows.
Democrats came out of the 2020 elections with a fragile trifecta of government control.
Joe Biden won the presidency over incumbent Donald Trump. In the House, Democrats hold a slender 220-212 edge, with three vacancies. A surprising sweep of both Senate seats in Georgia propelled the party to a 50-50 tie with Republicans in the Senate. Biden’s victory meant his running mate, Vice-President Kamala Harris, can cast a tie-breaking vote in many cases in her role as President of the Senate.
History shows that the party of a new president loses seats — often dozens — in the House in the first midterm election. All 435 seats — including a new sixth one in Oregon — will be on the 2022 ballot. Only twice has the new party held or added to its majority: Democrats in 1934 amid the Depression and Republicans in 2002 after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Senate, with its staggered six-year terms, is harder to predict, but overall history favors a turnover to the GOP.
In his 25 years in the Senate, Wyden has spent most of the time outside looking in — with 10 years in the majority and 15 in the minority. In the House, he was in the majority 14 out of 15 years. But the basic math remains the same.
Regardless of the partisan breakdown of membership, the most important number doesn’t change in the 100-member Senate.
“You need 51 votes,” Wyden said.
“My big three priorities now are child care, affordable housing, and prescription drug prices,” Wyden said.