Yesterday’s runoff elections in Georgia look primed to give Democrats control of the Senate. The AP declared Reverend Raphael Warnock the winner in his race against Senator Kelly Loeffler. It has yet to do the same for Jon Ossoff, but the Democratic challenger is leading GOP Senator David Perdue with the bulk of the remaining votes coming from Democratic-leaning areas in the Atlanta metropolitan area, and a number of other organizations calling the race for Ossoff as well.
As a practical matter, getting to 50-50 with Kamala Harris as the tiebreaking vote will make Chuck Schumer the majority leader, a position that lets him set the agenda in the Senate. Practically, that means that a $2,000 stimulus is much more likely. Here’s why.
The biggest obstacle to $2,000 checks isn’t in charge any more. Mitch McConnell did not allow a vote on the CASH Act passed by the House that would have increased the second round of emergency payments from (an insulting) maximum of $600 to a more reasonable $2,000. Pocketing bills passed by the Democratic House was kind of his thing as majority leader, so getting him out of that role was a necessary precondition to a bigger stimulus. And Schumer certainly seems motivated to use his new power to make the checks a reality.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, just now: “One of the first things I want to do when our new senators are seated is deliver the $2000 checks to the American families.”pic.twitter.com/w4GdDWpyDP
— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) January 6, 2021
GOP senators have said they support $2,000 payments. Forty-four GOP congresspeople supported the bill to increase payment amounts that passed the House. In the Senate, GOP Sen. Josh Hawley teamed up with Bernie Sanders in an attempt to force a vote on the issue. And after Trump tweeted his support for $2,000 checks, Sens. Lindsay Graham, Susan Collins, and Marco Rubio also came out in favor. While hypocrisy isn’t exactly uncommon in the U.S. Congress, it would be hard for them to change course so quickly, meaning bigger payments could come even if centrist Democrats raise concerns.
Warnock and Ossoff ran on it, and Biden said he’d do it. Both Democratic Senate candidates in Georgia made the $2,000 payments a key plank of their closing argument to voters. President-Elect Biden joined the chorus, saying “$2,000 checks will go out the door” while campaigning for Ossoff and Warnock last week. He also called the last bill a “down payment” on future support from the government. Breaking a high-profile promise to voters isn’t something any of these men are eager to do, particularly when the need for more relief is so obvious.
A one-time $2,000 stimulus is now a moderate position. Emboldened by the popularity of more assistance and how Sanders’s bold move made a bigger check politically feasible, the bolder members of the Democratic caucus are already pushing for more, from retroactive COVID-19 relief checks to recurring monthly payments that will last through the crisis. The ability to oppose these measures, which are more in line with what other developed countries have provided their citizens, might give some uneasy moderate Democrats the cover they need to vote for a one-time $2,000 stimulus.