In just over three weeks, Donald Trump will no longer be president, but he spent his final month in office sowing discord. His latest Chaos Muppetry – a request that Congress increase the final round of stimulus checks from $ 600 to $ 2,000 – has now given Democrats a slim chance of providing more aid to Americans. And apart from that, a chance to make the life of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell more difficult.
After the House passed a bill on Monday that increased payments for “economic impact” – in other words, stimulus checks – Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) stands ready to continue the fight.
Sanders, with the support of the Senate Democratic Caucus, plans a series of procedural steps to delay the vote on a non-partisan law to approve the defense. These maneuvers cannot prevent the Defense Act from becoming law, but that is not really the point. The bill is seen as a must, and Sander's objections can delay passage, upset Senate Republicans and possibly force Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to raise a number of objections that affect his ability Could affect party to cling to their Senate majority.
And Sanders also has a clear demand: he will overturn his objection to an immediate vote on the defense law if McConnell allows a vote on laws that allow Americans earning less than $ 75,000 a year to see $ 2,000 checks.
This week in the Senate, Mitch McConnell plans to vote to override Trump's veto on the $ 740 billion defense funding bill and then head home for the new year.
I will object until we vote on legislation to give the working class a direct payment of $ 2,000.
– Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) December 28, 2020
The first round of this fight took place shortly after noon in the Senate, during an exchange between McConnell, Sanders and Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the leader of the Senate minority. McConnell moved a vote on the Defense Act and Sanders opposed it unless the Senate immediately votes on the $ 2,000 payments.
The politics of this struggle favor democrats. A recent survey on Data for Progress shows 78 percent of likely voters support paying $ 2,000 outright. Trump himself supports it too; He continues to tweet his support for $ 2,000 checks. On Monday the House voted for $ 2,000 checks, with 44 Republicans along with almost every Democrat advocating the legislation.
And all of this is happening as Republicans struggle to keep two Senate seats in Georgia, a state that recently voted for Democratic President-elect Joe Biden – two seats worth mentioning that will decide who will run the Senate in 2021 controlled.
If Sander's move fails, it won't be the first time very popular legislation dies in Mitch McConnell's Senate. And McConnell still has a way out; he suggested on Tuesday that he could link unfavorable proposals to the heightened business cycle tests to make the whole proposal more uncomfortable.
But the strange mix of circumstances that got us to the point gives the Democrats a tiny chance to make the $ 2,000 check a reality.
The many legislative battles at the end of 2020, briefly explained
Congress entered the Christmas season with three high priority articles. The National Defense Authorization Act is an annual affair that sets much of the country's defense policy for the next year and directs the military on how to spend its budget. Legislation to fund much of the federal government was also due to expire last Monday, meaning the unfunded agencies would close unless new money was provided to keep them open.
And then there is the economic aftermath of a pandemic that has forced much of the country to stay home and shut down countless businesses across the country. House Democrats passed a $ 3 trillion package in May to ease that financial burden, but the GOP-led Senate wavered over Covid-19 relief over the next several months.
However, Senate Republicans seemed to have a renewed interest in aid when their Senate majority was jeopardized by the Georgia Senate's two races, which will be decided in a January 5 runoff.
Towards the end of the year – and towards the end of the current congressional session on January 3rd – Congress managed to pass the NDAA largely bipartisan and (after some delays) to adopt mega-government funding and an economic stimulus package.
Georgia Democratic Senate candidates Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff both stand up for support for Covid-19. The Senate's decision to provide $ 900 billion in aid enabled incumbent Republicans Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler to honor the bill.
But just as everything seemed settled for the year, Trump decided to spend the last few weeks increasing the difficulty.
The outgoing president vetoed the Defense Approval Act, citing his objection to a provision requiring the military to designate facilities named after Confederate traitors and a requirement that the law be a quarter of a century old Repeals legal requirement that allows websites like this to exist as Twitter.
He also briefly threatened to veto the Covid 19 aid government's funding law – although he withdrew that threat and signed the omnibus legislation on Sunday evening. Trump claimed, among other things, that the Covid-19 auxiliary bill should have written a check for $ 2,000 to low- and middle-income Americans. The bill he signed contains only a check for $ 600.
The punch line is that the Senate must return to Washington this week to lift Trump's defense law veto (the House voted to lift Trump's veto on Monday). And that gives the Senate Democrats a short window to push for the $ 2,000 checks.
The Republican Senators of Georgia are in trouble
Even before Biden's victory, McConnell resisted many calls for additional Covid-19 aid spending, at times claiming he was more concerned about the national debt. During the Obama years, McConnell and his Republicans in Congress frequently cited deficit fears to push for austerity budgets, even though they fell in love with deficit hawkery almost immediately when a Republican settled in the White House.
With Biden taking office next month, it could be expected that Republicans would normally return to their position under Obama and fight back spending bills that could boost the economy under a Democratic president.
But Biden is not yet a president, and the Republicans' most immediate electoral problem in the Senate is holding onto the two seats in Georgia. Neither Perdue nor Loeffler want to be on the unpopular side of a battle for the $ 2,000 check, and both have spoken out for them – Perdue didn't do so until Tuesday morning.
Perdue and Loeffler's rhetorical support for the $ 2,000 checks will mean little to the Americans who would benefit from these checks if the Senate never voted to approve them. And the two senators couldn't get much political advantage from advocating more direct relief if their own Senate chairman blocks such a vote – that's where Bernie Sanders comes in.
The Senate's rules are a maze of dilatation tactics, mandatory waiting times, and other procedures that allow the minority to postpone votes until later. A determined majority leader can still hit the bills, but not before wasting days overcoming these obstacles.
Usually, these delays are avoided by unanimous approval. If no senator objects to the majority leader's request to circumvent the many delays allowed under the rules of the Senate, the Chamber's business can move forward very quickly. McConnell was hoping for unanimous approval to an immediate vote on Tuesday's veto suspension of the Defense Act, but Sanders plans to withhold McConnell's approval.
Without unanimous consent, McConnell has to use a multi-day process to get the veto-override vote on Sander's objection to speak. Democrats, meanwhile, can spend that time repeatedly calling for a vote on the $ 2,000 check, forcing McConnell to either agree to or oppose the request.
McConnell could also try to put a poison pill in legislation that allows for $ 2,000 checks and call a vote on a modified bill that Democrats would find unacceptable, but Sanders and other members of the Democratic caucus could have a vote on that Defense legislation still delaying if Republicans refuse to remove poison pill.
Here, too, the democratic minority alone cannot force a vote on the direct relief of $ 2,000. But they may not have to. The easiest way to instantly vote on the Defense Act is to vote up or down on the $ 2,000 check and allow any senator to register for or against them. If the GOP-controlled Senate passes the expanded Covid-19 Aid Act, Perdue and Loeffler may even plausibly be able to claim part of the loan for its passage.
In other words, Senate Republicans are likely to be torn between wanting to focus on losing business in anticipation of Biden's presidency and wanting to shore up two vulnerable senators that Republicans need to maintain a Senate majority .
It's far from certain that the latter wish will be enough to send the $ 2,000 in direct payments, but proponents of more Covid-19 relief have a little more reason to be optimistic than they did a week ago.
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