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Washington Watch: Biden’s partisan agenda is ‘indefinitely delayed’ after Sen. Lujan’s hospitalization, analysts say


Democratic Sen. Ben Ray Lujan suffered a stroke last week, and though his office says he is expected to make a full recovery, his hospitalization leaves Democrats with just 49 votes in the Senate and imperils President Joe Biden’s agenda in the coming weeks and months, analysts say.

“Lujan’s hospitalization has wide impacts across the functioning of the Senate under a 50-50 split, most acutely for controversial White House nominations and for a budget reconciliation bill that would not receive any Republican support,” wrote Robert Kaminski, a policy analyst at Capital Alpha Partners, wrote in a Wednesday note to clients.

Ben Koltun, director of research at Beacon Policy Advisors, speculated in a note to clients Wednesday that Lujan could be kept off the Senate floor from anywhere between a week and a year, citing data from Johns Hopkins Medicine that an average hospital stay for a stroke is between five and seven days.

That doesn’t mean that Lujan would necessarily be ready to return to the Senate floor in a week, given that former Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois was absent from the Senate for nearly a year following his 2012 stroke.

“Senate Democrats may still call themselves the majority party, but with the absence of Sen. Ben Ray Lujan after he suffered a stroke, the partisan agenda is indefinitely delayed,” Koltun wrote.

Depending on the length of Lujan’s recovery, his absence could further jeopardize Biden’s economic agenda. The initial vehicle for his tax-and-spending priorities on issues including climate change, child care and healthcare was the Build Back Better bill, which died after Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia said he wouldn’t support it, but progressives remain hopeful that a slimmed-down version of the legislation can pass.

Koltun said his “base case” for this new legislation passing would be before the end of May, so a short absence wouldn’t present a meaningful challenge, but a long recovery could complicate Democrats’ party-line legislative push as the November midterm election draws nearer.

A more immediate concern for Democrats are pending nominations for the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission. Both agencies remain deadlocked with two Republican and two Democratic commissioners, leaving them unable to propose or implement controversial new rules.

The Senate Commerce Committee, of which Lujan is a member, was scheduled to hold votes Wednesday to advance the nominations of Democrats Gigi Sohn to the FCC and Alvaro Bedoya to the FTC, but those votes were canceled now that Democrats would be outvoted 12-11 on the committee without Lujan’s vote.

“The good news for investors is further delay in the short term for controversial items such as net neutrality at the FCC and potential partisan litigation and rulemaking at the FTC,” Capital Alpha’s Kaminski wrote.

Aside from the potential for rules reinstating net neutrality — which would have a direct impact on internet service providers like Comcast Corp. CMCSA, +0.10% and Verizon Communications Inc. VZ, +1.13% and content providers like Netflix NFLX, -6.05% and Walt Disney Co. DIS, -1.29% — the absence of Democratic majorities at these agencies could impact new rule-making on privacy and efforts to beef up antitrust enforcement.

Bedoya, Biden’s pick for the FCC, made his name as an advocate for privacy, and would likely support aggressive new rules that would place obligations on a wide range of businesses that handle consumer data, though social-media companies like Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc. FB, +1.25% and Twitter Inc. TWTR, -4.22% could be most affected.

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