With Senate Democrats having secured the 50th vote needed to maintain control of the Senate, both parties are eagerly awaiting the results of the Georgia runoff on December 6 between Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and Republican candidate Herschel Walker. If Walker wins, the Senate will be split 50-50. The implications of a 51–49 Democratic majority versus a 50–50 Democratic majority are significant.
An Equally Divided Senate
Since February 3, 2021, the Senate has operated under an organizing resolution negotiated by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). The organizing resolution formalized a power-sharing agreement for the 117th Congress and was largely modeled on the 2001 power-sharing agreement reached by then-Democratic leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) and then-Republican leader Trent Lott (R-MS) following the November 2000 elections that resulted in a 50–50 Senate split for the 107th Congress. The 2021 power-sharing agreement laid out internal rules of the Senate, apportioned the makeup and control of committees, and prescribed procedures for the control of Senate business. Specifically, the 2021 power-sharing agreement provides that:
- Senate committees be equally balanced with members of both parties;
- The majority and minority on each committee have equal budgets and office space;
- If a subcommittee vote is tied on either legislation or a nomination, the committee chair may discharge the matter and place it on the full committee’s agenda;
- If a committee vote is tied, the Majority or Minority Leader may offer a motion to discharge the measure from committee, subject to a vote by the full Senate;
- Debate may not be cut off for the first 12 hours; and
- It is the “sense of the Senate” that both Majority and Minority leaders “shall seek to attain an equal balance of the interests of the two parties” when scheduling and debating legislative and executive business.