In the era since since there were 48 states (1913) and 50 states (1959) and since, there have been several Congresses in which either the US House of Representatives or the US Senate have had razor thin margins in membership, similar to what is happening in the 117th Congress, with a Democratic lead of only six seats in the House and an even split (50-50) in the Senate.
In the US House of Representatives, we have had close margins in the following 7 Congresses:
65th Congress 1917-1919 215-214 6 others
72nd Congress 1931-1933 218-216 1 other
78th Congress 1943-1945 222-209 4 others
83rd Congress 1953-1955 221-213 1 other
106th Congress 1999-2001 223-211 1 other
107th Congress 2001-2003 221-212 2 others
117th Congress 2021-2023 222-212 1 vacancy
In the US Senate, we have had close margins in the following 11 Congresses:
66th Congress 1919-1921 49-47
70th Congress 1927-1929 48-46 1 other, 1 vacancy
72nd Congress 1931-1933 48-47 1 other
82nd Congress 1951-1953 49-47
83rd Congress 1953-1955 48-47 1 other
84th Congress 1955-1957 48-47 1 other
85th Congress 1957-1959 49-47
107th Congress 2001-2003 50-49 1 other
108th Congress 2003-2005 51-48 1 other
110th Congress 2007-2009 49-49 2 other
117th Congress 2021-2023 50-48 2 other
Notice that both houses of Congress have had tight margins in the 72nd Congress (1931-1933); the 83rd Congress (1953-1955); the 107th Congress (2001-2003); and the present 117th Congress (2021-2023)!
These elections occurred at the time of the worsening of the Great Depression; the beginning of the Eisenhower Administration; the time of the contentious Presidential Election of 2000; and the time of the controversial Presidential Election of 2020!
The decades of the 1950s and the 2000s saw the largest number of tenuous majorities, with four Congresses in the 1950s and three Congresses in the 2000s having such results!
A total of 14 Congresses have had at least one house with a tenuous margin!
Whether the present tenuous majorities in both houses of Congress will continue in 2022 and beyond is the big question!
Very few people are aware of the job of the US Senate Parliamentarian, or the holder of that position, Elizabeth MacDonough.
She has held that job since 2012, appointed by then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
The first woman to hold that position, she is the sixth person to be in that job, since it was created in 1935.
She is designed to be a nonpartisan official who determines what and what cannot be done under the “reconciliation” process in the Senate, which can allow certain budgetary situations to move forward without meeting the filibuster requirement of sixty senators.
Without that, very little could be done in a Senate which for only the fourth time in history has seen an evenly divided Senate.
The 47th Congress (1881-1883); 83rd Congress (1953-1955); and the 107th Congress (2002-2003) are the only times before the 117th Congress, where we have seen such a situation.
So this woman, Elizabeth MacDonough, highly respected, has tremendous power over the Joe Biden agenda, and now has made clear that immigration reform cannot be utilized under “reconciliation”, a blow to action on that issue, which seems unlikely to be able to be overcome!
“Reconciliation”, a tactic permitted by the Senate parliamentarian, to allow some bills to pass if 51 votes are gained, has led to the passage of the COVID 19 relief legislation in March, and it may be that it will be utilized to gain the passage of the Infrastructure bill, which has been unable to gain Republican support over the past two months of negotiation.
This Congress is the 4th time we have had an evenly divided US Senate, after the 47th Congress (1881-1883); the 83rd Congress (1953-1955); and the 107th Congress (2001-2003).
The tactic can be used only sparingly, but whether it can be employed for a multitude of other Joe Biden initiatives, including on voting rights, criminal justice reform, and health care and education advancements is doubtful.
There is the possibility, sadly, that Joe Biden may be stopped in making massive changes, similar to what Barack Obama faced in 2011-2017, and that is so infuriating!
And the danger that the party in the White House almost always loses seats and or control in the midterm elections, presents a real challenge to Democrats in 2022, when with two thirds of the Senate seats up for election in that year being Republican held seats, and at least five incumbent Republicans not running for reelection.