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Fate of $2,000 stimulus checks could be determined by Georgia Senate race

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden speaks as he campaigns on behalf of Democratic U.S. Senate candidates from Georgia Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, ahead of their January 5 run-off elections, during a drive-in campaign rally in Atlanta, Georgia, January 4, 2021.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

The outcome of the two contests for U.S. Senate seats in Georgia are set to be decided on Tuesday.

The vote could also determine the fate of another issue that’s been hotly debated on Capitol Hill in recent days — whether or not to send $2,000 stimulus checks to Americans.

For now, $2,000 payments are not imminent. The Senate failed to approve those checks last week after the House passed a bill authorizing the payments.

Instead, second stimulus checks of $600 per person are now starting to arrive to millions of Americans. Direct deposits are already in some people’s bank accounts, while mailed paper checks and debit cards are on the way to others.

Some lawmakers argue those payments are not enough, as Covid-19 cases surge across the country and Americans struggle with high unemployment.

A Hill-HarrisX poll found that 75% of voters think $600 stimulus checks are “too little.”

The push for $2,000 checks may continue once President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20.

Whether those direct payments get approved or not may come down to who wins the Georgia Senate races, which will decide which party controls the chamber.

At a campaign rally Monday in Atlanta, Biden cited the ramifications that choice could have on the possibility of $2,000 stimulus checks.

“If you send Jon [Ossoff] and the reverend [Raphael Warnock] to Washington, those $2,000 checks will go out the door, restoring hope and decency for so many people who are struggling right now,” Biden said.

“If you send senators [David] Perdue and [Kelly] Loeffler back to Washington, those checks will never get there,” he said.

Why there’s a divide over $2,000 checks

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell leaves the Senate floor as he and the rest of the U.S. Senate face a decision over approving $2,000 stimulus checks on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., December 30, 2020.

Leah Millis | Reuters

President Donald Trump initially called for the $2,000 checks as a last-minute change to the latest $900 billion stimulus package. The idea was largely embraced by Washington Democrats.

Some Senate Republicans also backed the president’s proposal, including Perdue and Loeffler.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., has also been outspoken in his support for higher direct payments. He teamed up with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to push for bigger checks.

But getting the initiative passed in the Senate proved difficult after the House narrowly passed a bill authorizing the higher amount.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., wanted to combine the $2,000 checks with two other initiatives supported by the president — the repeal of a law that gives liability protections to internet companies and the creation of a commission to investigate election fraud.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called McConnell’s move a way of preventing the legislation from passing.

“This maneuver to combine all three issues is intended to kill the possibility of $2,000 checks ever becoming law,” Schumer said.

Like some other Republicans, McConnell complained that the $2,000 checks would be poorly targeted. A family of five with income of $250,000 who had not been impacted by the pandemic would get a $5,000 payment, he said.

“Socialism for rich people is a terrible way to help the American families that are actually struggling,” McConnell said on the Senate floor last week.

The Senate fight continued on New Year’s Day, with Republican including Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., also opposing higher direct payments.

Why the Georgia race matters

President-elect Joe Biden (C) along with democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate Jon Ossoff (L) and Rev. Raphael Warnock (R) greet supporters during a campaign rally the day before their runoff election in the parking lot of Centerparc Stadium January 04, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images

Biden will likely continue to try to get $2,000 stimulus checks passed once he takes office in a little over two weeks.

“My guess is that it will be part of any kind of a stimulus package that he and the vice president-elect put together,” said Bill Hoagland, senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

The results of the Georgia race will be a key factor in determining the success of those efforts.

The fight for the $2,000 checks could influence the outcome of the two contests. Perdue and Loeffler backed the $600 stimulus checks until Trump called for the larger payment. That could lead to a public perception they were flip-flopping, Hoagland said.

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If both Georgia Democrats win, that could stir up resentments within the Republican Party over the last minute push for the $2,000 payments, Hoagland said.

Whether or not the larger direct payments make it into Biden’s package will depend on how the economy, virus and vaccination efforts fare, Hoagland said.

Still, some are skeptical that another stimulus package including additional direct checks will happen in the near term.

“There is little chance that Congress passes another Covid relief bill for at least the next six months unless the economy significantly underperforms expectations,” Stifel chief Washington policy analyst Brian Gardner said in a note this week.

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