Democrats’ ability to deliver on their promise of more COVID-19 relief under a Biden Administration is tied in large part to their success—or failure—in the Georgia Senate runoffs. The politics around the $2,000 stimulus check show what is to come if they lose.
President Donald Trump has signed off a new stimulus package, after refusing to do so for several days over his displeasure with its contents, and on Monday lawmakers will vote on whether to boost the second round of checks from $600 to $2,000.
Trump forced the $2,000 check onto the table with his refusal to sign the stimulus bill. Its fate, however, like so many other issues, sits not in his hands but those of one lawmaker in particular: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
The president said McConnell is in the process of arranging a vote in the Senate, though the majority leader has not commented on this himself. Most Republicans were opposed to larger stimulus checks and it is not clear Trump would win a vote.
McConnell’s power highlights the potential pitfall for Democrats once President-elect Joe Biden takes office. If the Republican incumbents in the Georgia runoffs win and the GOP retains control of the Senate, McConnell is again there to thwart Democratic ambitions.
The $2,000 check is set to pass the House of Representatives, having been pushed heavily by Democrats who have a majority in the chamber, its chances in the Senate are less certain.
Though Trump also battled for $2,000 checks, McConnell has shown he is content to break with the president of late. He, along with fellow Republican Senators, could easily block what Trump wants, and many disagree with him on the size of the checks.
It would not be the first time they have pushed against stimulus proposals. The Democrats’ HEROES Act and a modified version of it both passed through the House then failed in the Senate where McConnell dominates.
The Georgia runoffs, which polling has indicated will be tight, will determine if McConnell’s majority remains a blockage for Democrats on the stimulus issue and beyond.
If the Democratic candidates in Georgia—Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock—defeat incumbent GOP Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, the Democrats would have 48 Senators and two independents who caucus with them, splitting the chamber 50/50.
Tiebreak votes would then be cast by the vice president, set to be Kamala Harris following Inauguration Day on January 20, giving the Democratic caucus a razor-thin majority.
This is not without its difficulties. Unifying the entire Democratic caucus on issues will be challenging given the differing views and political needs.
But it would, at least, remove McConnell and the Senate GOP’s power to blockade the Biden Administration. The president-elect has campaigned in Georgia ahead of the runoff elections.
Ahead of Trump signing the latest relief package, Biden said he wanted to sign a significant bill for stimulus on his first day in office. However, he spoke of needing Democratic control of the Senate to do that.
“There are folks in Congress threatening to do everything in their power to block our efforts,” he said.
Speaking separately at a campaign event in Georgia earlier this month, Biden said: “Are you ready to vote for two United States senators who know how to say the word ‘yes’ and not just ‘no’?”
Some GOP lawmakers have already indicated that they want the latest relief package to be the last.
Newsweek has contacted the Biden transition team and McConnell’s office for comment on the prospect of further stimulus down the line.