February 04, 2021

2021 United States Senate Power-Sharing Agreement

2 min


The United States Senate is equally divided between 50 Democratic and 50 Republican Senators, with Vice President Harris breaking the tie to give Democrats majority control. Only three other times has a divided Senate occurred, most recently in 2001.

Unlike the House of Representatives, the Senate's organization and governance do not terminate with the adjournment of the previous Congress. As a "continuing body," the leadership of the previous Senate remains in power until the Senate adopts a new organizing resolution. That resolution, however, must secure 60 votes to avoid being filibustered.

The necessity of securing at least ten Republican votes to organize required incoming Majority Leader Schumer (D-NY), like the Republican majority in 2001, to negotiate a power-sharing agreement with Minority Leader McConnell (R-KY). Absent an agreement, Republicans continued to chair Senate committees and control the pace of committee business, including Biden administration nominations, despite being in the minority.

The Agreement

After weeks of negotiations, the Leaders reached an agreement on an organizing resolution that will allow Democrats to take control of the Senate committees.

Based on the 2001 agreement, the resolution:

  • Allocates committee seats equally between the parties
  • Allocates equal committee budgets, staffing, and office space
  • Provides a process for bills or nominations to advance to the Senate floor even if committee consideration results in a tie
  • Guarantees floor amendments so long as they are not "dilatory"
  • Commits both sides to avoiding "lengthy debate" on procedural votes for bipartisan legislation

Importantly, Minority Leader McConnell dropped his demand that the Democrats put in writing a commitment to preserve the 60-vote threshold to end a legislative filibuster. While this was likely an untenable position for him to hold for long, he did elicit public commitments to the filibuster from the Biden White House and Senators Manchin (D-WV) and Sinema (D-AZ).

The Senate adopted the resolution by unanimous consent on February 3, 2021. Upon adoption, Democrats officially took control of the Senate and can begin to drive their agenda.