Democrats win Senate control amid Capitol Hill breach, paving the way for $2,000 stimulus check
The razor-thin Senate majority is expected to have an outsize effect on the next stimulus package. Here's the situation.
Clifford ColbyManaging Editor
Clifford is a managing editor at CNET, where he leads How-To coverage. He spent a handful of years at Peachpit Press, editing books on everything from the first iPhone to Python. He also worked at a handful of now-dead computer magazines, including MacWEEK and MacUser. Unrelated, he roots for the Oakland A's.
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The outcome of the special Georgia election was challenged without evidence on Twitter by President Donald Trump Tuesday night even before the final votes came in. Shortly after the breach on Capitol Hill, Trump tweeted encouragement for his supporters -- who illegally broke into the Capitol Hill building and defaced offices and statues -- while continuing to falsely claim the election was rigged. His tweets were first flagged and then removed by Twitter, before Trump's account was temporarily blocked by the social network and others.
Warnock and Ossoff's wins are significant against Wednesday's startling backdrop, as President-elect Joe Biden will have to grapple with a dangerously divided nation still coping with a deadly pandemic and uncertain economic recovery. Among other things, a Senate narrowly controlled by Biden's party could pave the way for Congress to approve a $2,000 third stimulus check, an amount some in Congress tried and failed to pass at the end of 2020. Here's what you need to know about how the new Congress could play into a third stimulus check.
2 ways the Senate majority will shape the next stimulus check
As the $600 stimulus checks continue to be sent, Biden is expected to push for another stimulus bill once he takes office in a few weeks, one with a third stimulus check. Many Senate Republicans leaders are increasingly unwilling to consider more direct aid by the end of 2020.
As a Democrat, Biden's path to getting economic aid approved -- including a third check -- is predicted to be much smoother if Democrats also hold both chambers of Congress this year. Democrats hold a slim majority in the House of Representatives.
After Warnock and Ossoff are sworn in, Democrats will control the Senate by a hair. It would have 50 seats -- 48 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the party -- with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris possessing the power to break ties. A Democratic majority could make it easier to push for a tie-breaking vote rather than a two-thirds majority vote.
Perhaps more importantly, a Democratic Senate Majority Leader (likely last Congress' minority leader, Chuck Schumer) would have the power to bring bills to a vote, including those favored by Biden and fellow Democrats. The outgoing Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, opposed boosting the $600 payments to $2,000 in the final days of the current Congress, as well as a larger stimulus package. On Jan. 1, he declined to bring a $2,000 stimulus bill passed in the House to a vote in the Senate, effectively killing the bill's chance of passage before the new Congress took its place.
Stimulus checks have strong backing, and are expensive
In the days leading up to the Jan. 5 runoff, the two unsuccessful Republican candidates, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, both backed the $2,000 stimulus checks Trump has supported. Although the Senate failed to vote on the $2,000 checks, one thing is known -- stimulus checks add up.
Since this summer, however, some Republicans in Congress have balked at funding large aid packages as the US deficit has climbed. "We have a limited amount of resources," Republican Sen. John Thune said Jan. 1, arguing against the Senate approving a $2,000 payment. "This is borrowed money."
What happens next?
Regardless of the Senate's new Democratic leadership, the party split will remain so close that Biden will face a divided Congress regardless. He will most likely do what every president has done and look for areas where the two sides can find common ground.
Passage of a new sweeping stimulus package might still be more difficult if Republicans rally behind more austere spending in 2021 and beyond, but smaller aid proposals focused on specific needs -- such as an increase in the minimum wage or a third stimulus check tightly focused on those most in need -- could find wider bipartisan support.