'$600 is a joke': Georgia Democrats embrace push for $2,000 direct payments as runoff nears

'$600 is a joke': Georgia Democrats embrace push for $2,000 direct payments as runoff nears
Jon Ossoff // MSNBC

Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock have thrown their support behind the push for a $2,000 direct payment to most Americans, a development that progressives hope will give a boost to the two challengers taking on Georgia's incumbent Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in upcoming runoff contests that will determine which party controls the upper chamber of Congress.

The previously stalled effort to pass larger direct payments—led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus—was given renewed energy by President Donald Trump's Tuesday night announcement that he might not sign the $900 billion coronavirus relief package if it isn't amended to include bigger checks.

While many of Trump's advisers were reportedly "stunned" by the move, the president had previously considered publicly demanding $2,000 direct payments when the new relief legislation was being negotiated, according to the Washington Post. White House aides reportedly talked him out of it.

Pointing out that Trump called for bigger checks in early December, The Daily Poster's David Sirota suggested on Twitter that if neoliberal Democrats weren't "austerity ideologues," they could have "call[ed] his bluff then."

"Now they have one more chance," Sirota added.

Although he had already expressed criticism of the inadequate relief bill prior to Trump's veto threat, Ossoff has taken advantage of the the momentum generated by the president's disapproval of the new Covid-19 package.

On Tuesday morning, Ossoff told MSNBC that "$600 is a joke. People have been waiting eight months for the United States Senate to act."

"It's Mitch McConnell and Republicans in the Senate—and David Perdue my opponent who opposed even the first round of $1,200 checks—who have been holding this up for months, and who cut the direct stimulus payments in half as we enter the holiday season with so many families having difficulty making rent, the car payment, affording prescriptions, and putting food on the table," he continued.

"We need additional, substantial direct Covid relief," Ossoff added, "and the only way we'll get it is by winning these two Senate races in Georgia."

Following Trump's remarks Tuesday night, the Democratic challenger capitalized on the shifting terrain created by president's attack on the bipartisan deal, reiterating his earlier critique of Perdue's complicity in the GOP's months-long rejection of sorely-needed aid, which coincided with allegations that the Georgia senator illegally used knowledge obtained in early briefings on the pandemic to profit from well-timed stock trades.

When it comes to distributing more cash relief to struggling households, Trump is "right," Ossoff told CNN Tuesday night. "They should send $2,000 checks to the American people right now because people are hurting."

Warnock on Wednesday joined Ossoff, calling for "$2,000 checks now."

As Common Dreams reported earlier Wednesday, House Democrats have indicated that they intend to request unanimous consent this week to approve the allocation of one-time $2,000 checks to most Americans.

Because it is highly unlikely the amendment introduced by Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) to replace the current $600 payment with a $2,000 one will pass through unanimous consent—given that any single legislator can block it—progressives are urging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to bring House members back for a full vote on the payment increase.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has also expressed support for the idea. Although the Senate is controlled by the GOP, the high-stakes runoff races combined with Trump's curveball gives some leverage to Democrats who have an opportunity to pressure Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) by turning the Georgia election into a referendum on cash relief amid the ongoing public health and economic catastrophe.

Warnock implied as much when he tweeted Tuesday night that Loeffler—whose estimated net worth hovers close to $900 million—"thinks $600 will cover your rent, groceries, and hospital bills."

Ossoff, meanwhile, made the relationship between flipping the Senate and delivering substantial relief even more explicit.

In a fundraising email sent to potential voters Wednesday, Ossoff claimed that the paltry $600 check only came about because Perdue and McConnell are "desperate to stay in power... [and tried] to buy back Georgians' votes... after eight months of obstruction."

A mere $600, however, is insufficient to cover mounting bills, he said, and "it's certainly not enough to get back in the good graces of Georgians Perdue has neglected for far too long."

"This is the people's Senate seat," he continued, "and David Perdue won't be able to buy it back—especially not after he ignored Georgians when they needed him the most."

Delivering "real support to the American people," Ossoff added, requires winning both match-ups on January 5.

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