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A Republican majority in the House and Democratic control of the Senate will likely put Washington in a political deadlock that could halt President Biden’s legislative agenda for the remaining two years of his first term.

Republicans had hoped to gain control of both chambers of Congress, as polling showed they had an advantage in key Senate and House races amid Biden’s record low approval ratings, rising inflation and a stagnated economy. However, Democratic incumbents and challengers won most of the swing state races in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Nevada, with the Georgia Senate race going to a runoff election next month.

Even when Democrats held a majority in Congress during Biden’s first two years in office, the party failed on multiple occasions to pass legislation that was key to Biden’s 2020 campaign promises, including the Build Back Better Act. Moderate Democratic Senators such as Joe Manchin, of Western Virginia, and Kyrsten Sinema, of Arizona, stalled these votes, slowing legislative progress for Biden’s agenda.

The 118th Congress will be a divided government where cooperation between both parties is necessary to see any major legislation passed and signed into law by the president. The partisan environment gripping Washington, D.C., makes cross-party cooperation for Biden’s legislative hopes highly unlikely.

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Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy has threatened to use the issue of raising the debt ceiling for negotiations with President Biden and Democrats over spending cuts. 

Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy has threatened to use the issue of raising the debt ceiling for negotiations with President Biden and Democrats over spending cuts. 
(AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

Republicans in the House have called for cuts to welfare entitlements, an investigation of Hunted Biden’s business dealings, and they have threatened to subpoena State Department officials over the August 2021 withdrawal of Afghanistan if they gained a majority in the House. Moreover, the GOP’s victory cripples any hope for resurrecting Biden’s student debt relief plan after it was stalled by a federal judge appointed by former President Trump earlier this month. 

The gridlock will also make it difficult for the GOP to undo Biden’s smaller legislative achievements, such as the Inflation Reduction Act or the gun safety legislation signed by Biden in June. Republicans do not have a veto-proof majority, and any progress made on initiatives in the House will also likely die in the Senate. 

A divided Congress could also lead to a government shutdown under Biden’s watch if neither party can agree on raising the debt limit so the government can continue paying its bills. Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy signaled before the election that he would use the debt ceiling when negotiating with Democrats for spending cuts. 

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“If you’re going to give a person a higher limit, wouldn’t you first say you should change your behavior, so you just don’t keep raising and all the time?” McCarthy asked. “You shouldn’t just say, ‘Oh, I’m gonna let you keep spending money.’ No household should do that.”

Prominent Democratic senators such as Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, have called for Democrats to lift the debt ceiling before the new Congress takes over in order “to block Republicans from taking our economy hostage next year.”

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A showdown between Democrats and Republicans over the debt ceiling would damage Biden’s ability to push through the sweeping progressive changes he advocated for during the campaign cycle on climate change and voting rights. 

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