Now that the projected victors have been declared and the dust begins to settle following the Georgia Senate runoff races, you may be asking yourself a simple question: what does it all mean?
First a recap. Democrats needed to win both of the state's Senate elections to take Senate control away from the GOP. They did just that. Now, the Senate will be equally divided 50-50, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaker for Democrats.
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Now the votes are in. Democrat Jon Ossoff won after running against Republican David Perdue, whose Senate term expired on Sunday with the start of the new Congress, and Democrat Raphael Warnock unseated GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler.
Why Is It Such a Big Deal?
The Democrats now hold an edge over Republicans in the Senate, which will give them more opportunity to dictate what policies President-elect Joe Biden can pass — on issues from climate change to health care and taxes — but also who he puts on federal courts.
Biden acknowledged as late as Monday that large chunks of his policy agenda hung in the balance of the two critical races.
“With their votes in the Senate, we’ll be able to make the progress we need,” Biden said, referring to policy areas like jobs, health care and the environment. He added that a Democratic Senate majority could ensure sending out $2,000 stimulus checks to qualifying individuals and easing the obstacles to getting the COVID-19 vaccine distributed.
What Was at Stake?
For starters, the Democrats have been loud advocates of increasing COVID-19 relief payments to the American people from $600 to $2K, a feat that now appears to have one less roadblock with Senate soon-to-be Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., no longer able to block the path.
Taking control of the Senate also now gives Biden his best opportunity at signing major new legislation on critical issues, running the gamut from climate change to immigration, voting rights, poverty and racial justice. Other issues championed by the Democrats, including reducing or eliminating student loan debt, as well as increasing the minimum wage, were in play.
Take the Environmental Protection Agency for example. The EPA was literally gutted during the Trump administration. Just this week, the agency completed one of its last major rollbacks under the Trump administration, changing how it considers evidence of harm from pollutants in a way that opponents say could cripple future public-health regulation.
Giving teeth back to the EPA is just one of the measures Biden is now empowered to do now that Democrats have gained an advantage in the Senate.
Even a closely divided Democratic Senate doesn't guarantee Biden everything he wants, given chamber rules that require 60 votes to move most major legislation. But if Democrats had lost even one of Tuesday's contests, Biden would have had little shot for swift up-or-down votes on his most ambitious plans to expand government-backed health care coverage, strengthen the middle class, address racial inequality and combat climate change. A Republican-controlled Senate also would have created a rougher path for Biden's Cabinet picks and judicial nominees.