Happy new year! We hope your 2021 is off to a good start. Here’s a look where things stand and some key dates ahead as we plow into the first year of the Biden administration and the 117th Congress.
Pelosi gets a fourth term as speaker: The new Congress was sworn in on Sunday, and Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was elected to her fourth term as House speaker by a narrow 216-209 margin that highlights the challenges the White House and Democratic lawmakers may face in driving their agenda. “As we are sworn in today, we accept a responsibility as daunting and demanding as any previous generation of leadership have ever faced,” Pelosi said, noting the 350,000 American lives lost due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “Our most urgent priority will continue to be defeating the coronavirus. And defeat it we will.”
Congress overrode Trump’s NDAA veto: In the last vote of the 116th Congress, lawmakers delivered a rebuke to President Trump, with the Senate on Friday voting 81-13 to override Trump’s veto of the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which sets spending levels and lays out policy for the Pentagon. It was the first veto override of Trump’s term. “This vote was undoubtedly a bipartisan rebuke of President Trump. He tried to use our troops as political pawns and distort what this bill is about. In the end, he lost," Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) said in a statement after the vote.
No $2,000 checks: The Senate adjourned without voting on whether to increase the $600 direct payments provided under the latest Covid relief to$2,000. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) derided the increased payments as "socialism for rich people." Democrats have said they will continue to push for the larger payments in the early days of the new Congress, but the fate of those checks — and any additional pandemic stimulus — may rest on Tuesday’s runoff elections for two Georgia Senate seats.
A poll released Friday by liberal think tank Data for Progress found that 47% of the 1,166 people surveyed blamed "Republicans in Congress and Senator Mitch McConnell" for the lack of a deal to provide larger checks while 32% blamed "Democrats in Congress and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi." Another 15% of respondents pointed the finger at Trump.
Georgia Senate runoffs will set the stage for next two years: The results of Tuesday’s Georgia Senate runoffs will determine much of what happens on Capitol Hill in 2021 and 2022. “It is impossible to overstate how critical these races are for fiscal, tax, and regulatory policy over the next 2 years,” analyst Chris Krueger of the Cowen Washington Research Group wrote in a note to clients Monday.
The Washington Post’s Tory Newmyer laid out what could be at stake in the races between Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler and Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock:
“A Democratic sweep would hand the party control of the Senate, boosting the odds the Biden administration could steer more economic relief spending through Congress. Investors see fiscal stimulus as bullish for stocks but could also worry about what an all-Democratic Washington means for corporate taxes and regulation.”
A Democratic administration paired with a Democratically controlled House and Senate would be more likely to push for a larger stimulus as well as corporate tax hikes and more aggressive regulation. Democratic wins could also allow Biden to round out his administration with more liberal appointees, potentially leading to “a more aggressive administrative agenda,” Compass Point Director of Policy Research Isaac Boltansky reportedly noted.
Given those expectations, Trump’s continued efforts to overturn the election results in Georgia and elsewhere could undermine Perdue and Loeffler — and, Newmyer suggests, may deliver “a parting gift to fans of more fiscal stimulus.”
Big dates ahead: Here are some other key dates and deadlines to keep in mind over the coming few months.
January 6: Congress counts Electoral College votes, the last step in reaffirming Joe Biden’s election victory.
January 20: Biden’s inauguration
January 31: The renewed federal eviction moratorium is set to expire.
March 14: Enhanced federal unemployment benefits are set to expire.