Georgia Democrats delivered, and soon it will be time for Biden to step up.
Democrats’ sweep of the Georgia runoff elections puts the party at an even 50-50 split in the Senate, and when Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is inaugurated on Jan. 20, she will have the tie-breaking vote.
Media outlets declared Warnock the winner early Wednesday morning over Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler, and Ossoff’s win over David Perdue was projected Wednesday afternoon.
Democrats are now strategizing ways to pass immediate economic relief, like the checks, and potentially use procedural maneuvers through the budget process to bypass their Republican Senate colleagues and move legislation on their own terms.
“This gives us an opportunity to have a very different set of choices and that’s what the election was all about in Georgia last night,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) told HuffPost on Wednesday.
The $2,000 stimulus checks were part of Democrats’ closing message in Georgia, as the COVID-19 pandemic has reached new horrors across the country.
“Their election will put an end to the block in Washington on the $2,000 stimulus check,” Biden said at an Atlanta rally over the weekend with Warnock and Ossoff. “If you send Sen. Perdue and Loeffler back to Washington, those checks will never get there. It’s just that simple. The power is literally in your hands.”
On Wednesday morning, Biden reiterated that point in a statement claiming a mandate to move quickly on more relief.
“Georgia’s voters delivered a resounding message yesterday: they want action on the crises we face and they want it right now,” Biden said, adding that he wants to work with both Republicans and Democrats to get another relief measure.
“I have long said that the bipartisan COVID-19 relief bill passed in December was just a down payment. We need urgent action on what comes next, because the COVID-19 crisis hits red states and blue states alike,” the president-elect said.
The fight for $2,000 checks has been a tumultuous one for the past several months. Not long ago it was a rallying cry pushed by some of the most progressive members of Congress, like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). But in the last month, President Donald Trump has vocalized his support for the effort, putting Republicans — who have been reluctant to spend more on COVID-19 relief — in a difficult political position.
With overwhelming bipartisan support, Congress passed a $900 billion coronavirus package in December that included $600 direct payments to Americans who made less than $75,000 in 2019. That legislation also funded unemployment insurance and loans for small businesses, among a host of other crucial relief measures.
Later that month, with Trump’s backing and bipartisan support, the House passed a bill to increase those direct payments to $2,000. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) repeatedly blocked that bill from passing despite support from both Democratic and Republican senators. He dubbed the effort “socialism for rich people” because it would have sent checks to some higher earners.
With total control of Congress this year, however, Democrats will likely renew their push for $2,000 stimulus checks in the coming months, alongside a host of other provisions they had to concede in negotiations with Republicans, like a further extension of unemployment benefits. They will need every member of the Democratic caucus in the Senate on board as well as at least nine Republican senators to join them to overcome the chamber’s 60-vote threshold and make it happen quickly.
One moderate Senate Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, recently expressed reservations about the impact of larger direct stimulus payments on the federal deficit. The House’s $2,000 check legislation is projected to cost about $450 billion, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.
“I would remind the president that under President Trump’s watch, we have added more debt at a faster pace than ever since World War II. We have never done this. People need to know that,” Manchin told a local West Virginia television station in December after Trump called on Congress to increase direct payments to $2,000.
Manchin’s position on larger stimulus checks could change when his party controls the Senate. And there are also some Republicans who have expressed support for the measure. Notably, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) partnered with Sanders to lobby for the proposal, despite disapproval from his own party leadership. There will additionally be pressure on some Republicans up for reelection in 2022 to support the checks ― especially now that Trump has so vocally backed the idea.
Democrats could also try to move additional coronavirus relief via a wonky process known as budget reconciliation. Republicans turned to that process ― which can be used to pass bills on specific topics in accord with certain guidelines ― to push through their tax cuts in 2017.
At the very least, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) ― now the likely majority leader ― could schedule a floor vote on $2,000 checks.
“It feels like a brand-new day. For the first time in six years, Democrats will operate a majority in the United States Senate ― and that will be very good for the American people,” Schumer said in a statement on Wednesday after Warnock and Ossoff both declared victory.
“For too long, much-needed help has been stalled or diluted by a Republican-led Senate and President Trump. That will change with a Democratic Senate, Democratic House, and a Democratic President,” Schumer added.
Americans have already begun to receive the approved $600 payments — for many a critical boost of cash to cover essential bills. But poverty experts have pointed out that $600, while helpful, won’t be enough to support the millions who have been unemployed or suffered cuts to their income since the pandemic took hold in March.