Why Georgia’s runoffs today could help make or break a $2,000 third stimulus check – CNET


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

Sarah Tew/CNET

Georgians are heading to the polls on Tuesday to vote in its statewide runoff election for two Senate seats, and the outcome could play a role in whether Congress approves a large or small third stimulus check that President-elect Joe Biden is expected to push for once he takes office in a few weeks — or possibly passes on another direct payment.

Control of the Senate hangs on Tuesday’s vote. If Democrats take the chamber, Congress could approve another stimulus check up to $2,000, an amount Congress failed to pass at the end of 2020. If the Republicans hold onto the Senate, Biden will need to negotiate with Senate Republicans leaders who had become increasingly unwilling to consider more direct aid by the end of 2020.

Before the last Congress adjourned, it approved a second stimulus check for $600, after months of start-and-stop negotiations. The new Congress sworn in on Sunday will most likely consider another stimulus package proposed by the Biden administration, but the size and scope of that bill may depend on who controls the Senate, a decision Georgia is making today. Here’s what you need to know about how the new Congress could play into a third stimulus check.

2 ways the party controlling the Senate has the upper hand

As a Democrat, Biden’s path to getting economic aid approved — including a third check — could be much smoother if Democrats also hold both chambers of Congress this year. In the new Congress sworn in this week, Democrats will hold a slim majority in the House. 

Control of the Senate, however, will depend on run-off elections in Georgia for two Senate seats. If Democrats win both seats, the party 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.

Perhaps more importantly, a Democratic Senate Majority Leader would have the power to bring bills to a vote, including those favored by Biden and fellow Democrats.

If Republicans win just one seat, the GOP will keep control of the Senate and Biden will start his term with a divided government. Winning both seats, Republicans would have a 52-48 majority. In either outcome, the Senate would be led by once again by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who 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, McConnell did not 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 are popular, and also expensive 

In the days leading up to the Jan. 5 runoff, the two Republican candidates, Kelly Loeffler and David Purdue, 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 catch-up 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. 

“Being timid in our policy solutions during this crisis would be a mistake,” William Gale, a senior fellow in the Economic Studies Program at the Brookings Institution, said Dec. 16. “Congress needs to allocate more resources — trillions of dollars — for relief and stimulus to support people and businesses.”

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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.”

If Republicans retain Senate majority, here’s what could happen

A group of Republican and Democratic senators who laid the groundwork for December’s bipartisan stimulus package points to a possible path of cooperation between Biden and the next Congress. It is just as likely, however, that Senate Republicans could try to rein in spending if the party retains control of the upper chamber.

If Biden does face a divided Congress, he will most likely do what every president has done when one or both chambers is in the other party’s hands and look for areas where the two sides can find common ground. Passage of a new sweeping stimulus package might be off the table 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 bipartisan support.

Biden could also look at executive actions to accomplish some of his goals, much as President Donald Trump did last summer with a series of executive orders. But without spending authority (only Congress has that), Biden would be limited in what he could accomplish without Congressional help — he wouldn’t be able to access the funds to send a second check.

As we wait for final composition of the new Congress and for the Biden administration to take over 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.

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