For months, Americans waited anxiously for news as Democrats, Republicans, and the White House hashed out the next COVID-19 relief bill. As December approached, many feared lawmakers would be unable to reach a consensus before the holiday recess.
However, with a looming federal shutdown and millions still unemployed, negotiators managed to reach a consensus and end the months-long gridlock. The result was a $900 billion stimulus package containing several measures backed by both parties, including a second round of stimulus checks.
Unfortunately, the size of the checks was a considerable disappointment, particularly for those hit hardest by the pandemic’s economic impact. At just $600, the payments were only half the size of those provided under the CARES Act last spring.
Several lawmakers, including top Democrat leaders and President-elect Biden, urged Congress to approve a standalone bill to distribute $2,000 checks, citing that $600 was woefully inadequate. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to put the measure to a vote, effectively stopping the bill in its tracks.
Several weeks and two Senate elections later, peoples’ hopes for a larger stimulus payment have been renewed. Democrats flipped the Senate during this week’s Georgia runoffs, putting both Congressional chambers in their favor.
“One of the first things that I want to do when our new senators are seated is deliver the $2,000 checks to the American families,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who declared himself the new Senate Majority Leader earlier this week, told reporters during a Wednesday briefing.
The $2,000 stimulus checks would be a welcome bonus for the millions of people facing financial uncertainty. If the measure is put to a vote and passes, it would give both qualifying taxpayers and each dependent an extra $1,400 each.
Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, the newly-elected Democratic Senators from Georiga, have been vocal in their support for the measure, pledging to push for the checks in their campaigns. Additionally, President-elect Biden, who campaigned for the candidates, said in a Monday speech that “their election will put an end to the block in Washington.”
“That $2000 stimulus check, that money would go out the door immediately, to help people who are in real trouble,” he added. “Think about what it will mean to your lives, putting food on the table, paying rent.”
Similarly, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who first proposed the $2,000 amount and whose two attempts to secure a Senate vote were obstructed by Republicans, also expressed support for Ossoff and Warnock.
“Promises made must be kept,” Sanders said in a Wednesday tweet. “That means not only the $2,000 direct payment, but an aggressive agenda that recognizes the economic desperation facing so many Americans.”
Democrats only have a slight majority in the Senate, but it’s enough to put the measure to a vote. However, to reach the 60 votes necessary to pass a bill, Democrats will need to convince at least 10 GOP members to approve the measure.
Mark Harkins, a former congressional staffer and Georgetown Government Affairs Institute senior fellow, told Yahoo Money that a Democrat-led Senate “definitely makes it much easier to at least get a stimulus bill on the Senate floor. Majority Leader McConnell seemed to be the main impediment to that.”
In late December, President Trump criticized his party for blocking the $2,000 direct payments, causing a three-day delay in the passage of the $900 billion relief bill. Within the month, the House approved a measure raising the stimulus checks to $2,000.
Although top Democrats have repeatedly stated their support for additional payments, it remains uncertain if they will add the measure to a comprehensive stimulus package in the future, or attempt to pass a stopgap bill.
“The difficulty is, it won’t be just the $2,000 [checks] but some amount of money, additional to the stimulus. There were a whole lot of other things that Democrats left out,” Harkins continued. “There is still a precarious balancing act that a presumptive leader Schumer would have to work through to get a bill through.”
Republicans might be more inclined to approve legislation for just the stimulus checks. However, it’s likely Democrats will want to pursue additional funding for cash-strapped state and local governments in a future deal after being forced to scrap the measure in the latest package.
This may deter the GOP, which has derided the provision as a “blue state bailout.”
But, as Harkins noted, they may have a different stance once they have an offer before them. “That was a great talking point for keeping it off the floor. But once it actually comes for a vote and senators have to explain why Republican Party senators are denying aid to their states, that’ll be more of a difficult thing.”
- Tsekova, Denitsa. “$2,000 Stimulus Checks Back in Play after Democrats Sweep Georgia Senate Runoffs.” Yahoo!, Yahoo!, 6 Jan. 2021, money.yahoo.com/stimulus-checks-back-democrats-sweep-georgia-runoffs-181434897.html.