Narrow majorities in the 118th Congress comes with some natural legislative hurdles – everything requires bipartisanship to reach the President’s desk, legislative loopholes (like budget sequestration) are no longer possible with a divided Congress, the politics of the 2024 election will be a strong current in agenda setting, small groups of policymakers are quickly empowered through their own voting blocks to change the course of any vote, and intra-caucus disagreement in terms of the direction forward complicates the ability to advance legislation.
Being a leader hoping to advance a meaningful and politically beneficial legislative agenda is not an enviable position within the upcoming Congress. This is why strategies around legislating should shift from focusing on major legislation to more targeted, behind-the-scenes bills that can bring bipartisan support through small but effective reforms that avoid the spotlight. This approach will be the easiest path to the President’s desk. Policymakers and the stakeholders who are seeking to advance legislation need to adopt a strategy of “modify and codify.”
We naturally think about legislative solutions that change the whole world in a single bill. That works in some landscapes, and may occasionally work in the 118th Congress, but a more reliable and likely path forward is through biting off small reforms and initiatives that do not carry the baggage or need for significant political capital that comes with larger legislative efforts.
Strategies for advancing legislation should prioritize bills whose reforms and intent are narrow in scope, attract both sides of the aisle, and stay far away from the 2024 political discourse. This will be, without question, the easiest path to the President’s desk for his signature.
Of course, most will not follow the “modify and codify” approach to policymaking and will reach for unraveling major laws, creating new programs of significance, or making enormous reforms that mirror promises on the campaign trail. Most, if not all, of these will end before they even start and will follow a long tradition of messaging bills that never had a chance.
For those who find a way to be impactful in a split Congress with narrow majorities, they will seek to “modify and codify,” and many will do so successfully.