How Georgia Senate Races Could Determine What Congress Gets Done in 2021
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 noted, according to the Post.
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.
1.2 Million Unemployed Still Waiting for Benefits: Analysis
Millions of unemployed Americans will start receiving an additional $300 per week in jobless benefits thanks to the $900 billion coronavirus relief bill signed into law on December 28. But about 1.2 million unemployed workers will be left out in the cold, according to an analysis by The Washington Post, because their applications for benefits are still hung up at their state unemployment offices — and, in many cases, have been for months.
According to the Post, about 703,000 applications for unemployment aid are currently in appeals at the state level, and another 529,000 people are simply waiting for states to make decisions on their initial applications for benefits. Some of the applications date back to last March, when the Covid-19 pandemic was beginning to shut down the economy.
The holdups have various causes, including efforts to cut down on fraud, but share a common theme of understaffed and underequipped state unemployment offices. “We are still dealing with twice the normal number of claims even today, nine months into the pandemic, while simultaneously continuing to plow through the record onslaught of claims that came in the door from March to June,” a spokesperson at the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services told the Post.
A system with a lot of cracks: The benefits system for workers who lose their jobs struggles to function properly even under the best of circumstances, and the pandemic has pushed it to the breaking point. Few states can handle the sheer number of applications they have received, and many state systems are running on poorly designed or outdated software.
On top of that, Congress created new unemployment programs and new rules in response to the pandemic — a welcome development for those who received benefits, but another challenge for already overburdened unemployment offices. According to the Post, the majority of people waiting to receive their benefits have applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a temporary federal program that is designed to help the self-employed, gig workers and parents who cannot work because their children’s schools are closed. Some state officials reported that uncertainty about eligibility for the new program was contributing to the delays.
No additional help for states: An early version of the Covid relief package included $1 billion for states to use to update their unemployment systems, but those funds didn’t make it to the final bill, leaving states to struggle with massive caseloads and sometimes unclear regulations on their own.
“It’s crazy our computer systems couldn’t be programmed to do the right thing,” Glenn Hubbard, former chief economist for George W. Bush, told the Post. “Something will happen again some day and we shouldn’t be in this position.”
40% of Farmers’ Income Came From Federal Government in 2020: USDA
Although total receipts dipped in 2020, American farmers are expected to record their highest net income in seven years — thanks in large part to payments from the federal government that accounted for nearly 40% of farmers’ income.
David Pitt of the Associated Press reports on the latest forecast from the Department of Agriculture:
“Farm cash receipts are forecast to decrease nearly 1% to $366.5 billion, the lowest in more than a decade, measured in real dollars. Direct federal government payments saved farmers’ bottom line: Farmers overall saw a 107% increase in direct payments from 2019, when a third of net income came directly from the government.”
It's estimated that farmers will have received $46.5 billion from the government in 2020, the largest direct payment total in history. That sum includes $32.4 billion in payments related to the coronavirus pandemic, and billions more from the Trump administration effort to make up for losses associated with the trade war with China.
3 Key Social Security Changes for 2021
A number of changes to Social Security took effect on January 1.
- Beneficiaries will get a 1.3% cost-of-living increase in payments. The average monthly Social Security payment to retired workers will go up by $20 to $1,543, with married couples who both receive benefits will see their average payment rise $33 to $2,596.
Earnings subject to the Social Security tax went up from $137,700 last year to $142,800.
- The full retirement age rose to 66 years and 10 months for those born in 1959. The full retirement age has been increasing in two-month increments for those born between 1955 and 1959 until it reaches 67 for anyone born in 1960 or later.
- Earnings subject to the Social Security tax went up from $137,700 last year to $142,800.
- $900 Billion Won’t Carry Biden Very Far – Patricia Cohen, New York Times
- When Will 2021 Feel Normal Again? Here's What Eight Experts Predict. – Paige Winfield Cunningham, Washington Post
- Here’s What Leadership on Vaccination Would Look Like – Leana S. Wen, Washington Post
- It’s Time to Consider Delaying the Second Dose of Coronavirus Vaccine – Robert M. Wachter and Ashish K. Jha, Washington Post
- The Bungled Vaccine Rollout Is a Bad Omen – Kate Aronoff, New Republic
- A New Year’s Goal for Progressives: Stop Advocating Bailouts for Rich People – Catherine Rampell, Washington Post
- Eliminating Social Security Provisions That Reduce Benefits for Some State and Local Workers Is Not the Way to Help Retirees – Alicia H. Munnell, MarketWatch
- ‘Buy American’ Won’t Make the Country Stronger – Bloomberg Editorial Board
- It’s Time for America to Reinvest in Public Housing – Ross Barkan, New York Times
- The Wreckage Betsy DeVos Leaves Behind – New York Times Editorial Board
- The Debt Ceiling May Affect Markets Long Before It’s Reinstated – Alex Harris, Bloomberg
- How the Department of Defense Could Help Win the War on Climate Change – Eric Wolff, Politico
2021 Will Be the Year of Guaranteed Income Experiments – Sarah Holder, Bloomberg