After decisively winning elections in November and January, Democrats have control of both houses of Congress and the White House. Joe Biden won the presidency with 306 electoral votes and 51.3% of the popular vote, a clear popular mandate. In early January, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock secured two Senate seats in Georgia, giving Democrats the majority in the Senate; both candidates won after making promises to send out $2,000 relief checks and raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. There is a public mandate to send out a robust COVID-19 relief package—so why are Democrats backing off?
Ossoff and Warnock ran their Senate campaigns in Georgia with an explicit promise: vote for us, and we’ll send you a $2,000 check. By the time the Georgia election came around, the $600 checks sent out under the Trump administration had already been deposited in peoples’ bank accounts, and both candidates enthusiastically backed a new $2,000 payment; Rev. Warnock even tweeted a campaign ad asking, “Want a $2,000 check?” with a picture of a Treasury check written out for $2,000. In his closing pitch, Biden said to a rally of supporters, “If you send Jon [Ossoff] and the reverend [Raphael Warnock] to Washington, those $2,000 checks will go out the door, restoring hope and decency for so many people who are struggling right now.”
“[T]hose $2,000 dollar checks will go out the door.” That was not an ambiguous statement, especially after the previous $600 checks had already “gone out the door.” The new Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters after the Georgia election, “One of the first things that I want to do when our new senators are seated is deliver the $2,000 checks to the American families.” So when Democrats swept into power with full control of the legislative and executive branches of the federal government, did they fulfill their promise?
The answer, of course, is no. Some have said that Biden, Ossoff and Warnock did not really mislead the public, because $600 plus the $1,400 they’re proposing in the new relief bill equals $2,000, right? Beyond being bad politics, this is simply false. Biden explicitly promised $2,000 checks after the previous payment had already gone out. Voters in Georgia swung control of the Senate on that promise, reasonably assuming they would see a return on that vote. Simply put, Biden lied. And yes, politicians lie all the time—that’s why it’s so important to call them out when they do.
Secondly, and more importantly, Democrats had the choice to either push for $2,000 or for $1,400. They chose the smaller number, despite the fact that they control Congress and the presidency. What could account for this? Even if they were “technically correct” about 600+1,400=2,000—which, again, they weren’t—there is absolutely no reason why they wouldn’t just push for a larger relief check to the people who need it.
Now let’s talk about the minimum wage. Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour has been a Democratic priority for years, and it’s incredibly popular; in Florida, a state Biden lost in November, a ballot measure raising the minimum wage to $15 passed by just over 61%.
Recently, however, the Senate parliamentarian ruled that the minimum wage increase could not be included in the new COVID-19 relief package. This is because the bill is being passed through the complex process of budget reconciliation to bypass the filibuster and its 60-vote requirement.
So what is there to be done? Well, a lot, actually. In 2001, then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott fired the Senate parliamentarian after a disagreement with his rulings. And the Vice President, as President of the Senate, has the power to overrule the parliamentarian’s decision; though Vice President Kamala Harris has reportedly ruled this out. Democrats, who have all the tools at their disposal to provide meaningful relief to millions of Americans, have instead chosen to allow arcane Senate rules and an unelected, advisory parliamentarian to restrain them. Make no mistake—if they wanted to raise the minimum wage and send out $2,000 checks in the next relief package, they could. They have simply chosen not to.
Why are Democrats perpetually caught flat-footed by the simplest problems to solve? How come they can’t effectively use power once they have it? When Republicans passed a tax cut in 2017 that disproportionately benefited the rich, only about 25% of the public approved of the plan. Republicans still passed the bill. In contrast, about two-thirds of Americans want a $15 minimum wage, and a Business Insider poll found that the vast majority of Americans agreed that $600 payments were far too small. On other issues, like student debt relief, 67% of voters and a majority of Republicans would support some form of widespread student loan forgiveness. Going hard on these issues would not lose Democrats political capital—it would probably make them more popular. So with the House, the Senate, the White House and the weight of the public behind them, why don’t Democrats actually fight for something?