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Want Washington to work together? Consider a split ticket

If Democrats and Republicans are forced to share control of Congress and the White House, they can come together to work out solutions that benefit both sides.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), left, and Vice President Joe Biden, walk through Statuary Hall on their way to a joint session of Congress to count the votes in Washington, Friday, Jan. 6, 2017.
Zach Gibson, Associated Press

National polls seem to indicate that a lot of people are planning on voting for former Vice President Joe Biden next week. Current projections — however flawed they may actually turn out to be — land him squarely in the White House. With that in mind, a recent survey from Pew Research Center brings to light what should be a worrisome trend for anyone concerned about our government’s system of checks and balances: Just 4% of registered voters plan to vote for a split ticket.

That means if Biden wins the presidency, the Senate — with its slate of vulnerable Republicans up for reelection this year — will also almost certainly fall into Democratic hands.

For strict partisans and liberal advocates, this will, of course, come as good news. But for the huge movement of voters casting their Biden ballots simply to vote against Donald Trump, the idea of a Democratic White House, Senate and House of Representatives should be concerning — concerning enough to motivate them to give their embattled Republican senators and senatorial candidates another chance.

Our system of federal government works best, in principle, when there are checks and balances on partisan power. When a majority in a chamber of Congress knows that its partisan bill is going to get shut down in the other chamber or vetoed by the president, it forces that majority to come together with the opposing party and actually work out a palatable, passable compromise — the compromise that’s at the heart of our democratic republic.

And that’s why splitting the ticket isn’t as urgent for Trump straight-ticket voters: Democrats are in no danger of losing control of the House, so a Trump administration would necessarily be forced to compromise moving forward, regardless of any other outcome.

If Democrats gain the White House and the Senate in 2021, there will be no need for compromise as they pass their own partisan legislation, unchecked until the midterms at the earliest.

But if Democrats and Republicans are forced to share Congress, they can come together to work out compromises and solutions that benefit both sides, rather than controversial laws that have long-lasting, divisive repercussions for the country.

Consider the Affordable Care Act. Perhaps no piece of legislation has rendered so much passion and been so divisive as Obamacare, a debate that rages on even today — more than a decade after the law was passed. Why? Because it was passed by a Democratic monopoly on the White House and Congress, without a single Republican drafter or supporter.

A “checked” Congress and White House would’ve needed to come together to find a health care solution more palatable to both sides, a solution that likely wouldn’t still be challenged in the courts today (and wouldn’t have politicized those courts far more than they were ever intended to be).

If a Biden administration is to leave a legacy any less controversial and embattled than the Obama administration’s, it will need a Republican chamber of Congress to force it to craft effective and sincere compromises.

But it won’t have that check unless its supporters split their ticket and elect or reelect Republicans to the Senate — and it’ll need a lot more than 4% of voters to make that happen.