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.

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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 fate of a third stimulus check may well rest with the leadership over the US Senate.

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Democrats will control the Senate, NBC NewsCBS News and other news outlets reported on Wednesday after calling the Georgia runoff election for the state's two Senate seats in favor of Democrats. The race was called for Raphael Warnock Wednesday morning and for Jon Ossoff hours later, while Washington, DC grappled with a mob of violent Trump supporters who breached the US Capitol building and halted the procedural electoral vote count taking place in the Senate.

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.


Will the new Congress approve another direct payment?

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

The IRS said it spent around $270 billion to send the first round 160 million stimulus checks last year but it's likely that total number, once catchup payments are added in, is closer to $300 billion. Many economists have argued now is not the time to rein in federal spending, with the economy struggling to get back on its feet. Instead the federal government should look to send out more aid to prop up the economy. 

Watch this: Second stimulus checks: Everything you need to know

For tens of millions of taxpayers, the majority of the stimulus money paid for food, rent and utilities, and debt, with a quarter going into savings, according to a Census Bureau survey from this summer. With Biden warning the country is heading into a "dark winter" -- facing a spike in coronavirus cases across the US and an economy continuing to shed jobs -- a second check would likely find similar uses.

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.

As we wait for the Biden administration to take over in the coming weeks, here's when you can expect to receive a second stimulus payment, now that it has been approved, and how much you could expect to see in your next check.