(CBS Detroit) — Before last Tuesday, a $2,000 stimulus check seemed very unlikely. The results of the Georgia runoff election, in which Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock won seats in the Senate, alter the political landscape. A $2,000 payment has now become a distinct possibility in the not-so-distant future.
Congress passed a second stimulus package on December 21, and President Trump signed it on December 27. The $900 billion in economic relief extended Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). PUA aids unemployed freelance and gig workers. PEUC adds 13 weeks of unemployment benefits onto however many weeks a given state provides (generally around 26 weeks). The second package also includes $600 stimulus payments, as opposed to the $1,200 payments issued through the CARES Act last spring. The latest stimulus has already started arriving in people’s bank accounts and will continue to go out through January 15.
Many economists maintain that this stimulus package won’t be enough to prop up a fragile economy or doesn’t put the money in the hands of the right people. Many Democrats and some Republicans also believe it falls short. The effects will become better understood in the coming weeks and months. So will the need for a possible third round of stimulus.
President Trump also believed that the second stimulus package, particularly the one-time payments, were inadequate. He pushed for $2,000 payment while the bill lingered on his desk and millions of Americans saw their unemployment insurance lapse.
Unless Republicans have a death wish, and it is also the right thing to do, they must approve the $2000 payments ASAP. $600 IS NOT ENOUGH! Also, get rid of Section 230 – Don’t let Big Tech steal our Country, and don’t let the Democrats steal the Presidential Election. Get tough! https://t.co/GMotstu7OI
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 29, 2020
The House quickly passed a bill to increase the amount of the second stimulus payment from $600 to $2,000, but the Senate did not take up the measure. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked a vote and instead put forth a bill that included the $2,000 stimulus along with other issues important to the President. Those issues included the formation of a commission to look into election fraud and the repeal of the social media shield law. Both were nonstarters for Democrats, and the Senate bill went nowhere.
A $2,000 stimulus check might have faced an uphill battle in the Senate either way. Fiscally conservative Republicans had already balked at a broader second stimulus package with a price tag north of a trillion dollars. They certainly did not support any additional stimulus. But it was also gaining some support, including from Republican Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who were both embroiled in tight runoff races.
Those races held broader significance beyond representation for the citizens of Georgia. Control of the Senate was at stake. With Ossoff and Warnock prevailing, the upper house is now split 50-50. (Democrats actually hold 48 seats, but independents Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont tend to vote with them.) Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will cast the deciding vote for all ties. And the bitter partisanship that exists suggests the likelihood of party-line votes on hot-button issues.
Once President-elect Joe Biden takes office on January 20, the Democrats will control the presidency and both houses of Congress. Their simple majority in the Senate won’t give them the 60 votes to overcome a filibuster without bipartisan support. But it does give them enough votes for the president-elect to hit the ground running when he enters office. That means Biden will be able to confirm his Cabinet nominees and pass legislation connected to budgets and spending through a legislative process known as reconciliation.
A $2,000 stimulus check is obviously connected to budgets and spending. And it has plenty of support among Democrats. As mentioned before, the House recently passed a bill raising the stimulus to $2,000. It passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act back in May. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was negotiating with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on a stimulus package in the neighborhood of $2 trillion in the runup to the election.
Biden referred to the latest stimulus as a “down payment” for dealing with the pandemic. In those same comments to reporters, the President-elect highlighted what he plans to request from Congress in terms of additional COVID relief. The list includes another round to stimulus checks.
Another stimulus package could cost in the neighborhood of $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion and take effect as soon as mid-March. That’s when unemployment benefit extensions included in the second stimulus package are set to expire.
Whether people can wait that long remains to be seen. Unemployment remains high by historical standards. Initial claims for the week ending January 2 was 787,000, as compared to initial claims of 212,000 for the same week in the year prior. The unemployment rate for November of 2020, the most recent month available, was 6.7 percent, well above the 3.5 percent from November of 2019.
Any true economic recovery remains dependent on the coronavirus pandemic. Domestic cases are nearing 21.5 million, and deaths have surpassed 364,000. Herd immunity requires about 70 percent of the population to be inoculated. But the rate of vaccination among the public has been slower than expected. The U.S. reportedly has the capacity to vaccinate 1 million people per day. Even at that rate, it would take another eight months or so for 70 percent of the population to receive one dose (not the required two doses.)
The second stimulus package will run its course by March. The chances that the country will have reached herd immunity by then, allowing the economy to return to some semblance of normal, are low. Millions of people will still need help. So the chances of a third and even a fourth stimulus package — and stimulus check — are pretty good.