Sen. Bernie Sanders late Thursday implored President-elect Joe Biden and the incoming Democrat-controlled Congress to make a robust coronavirus relief bill containing $2,000 direct payments the "first order of business" upon taking power, warning that failure to quickly deliver real material aid in the midst of devastating crises could lead to electoral backlash on the scale of the 2010 midterms.
"Remember what happened in 2010? Democrats got wiped out," Sanders (I-Vt.), the incoming chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said in an appearance on CNNThursday evening. "They had the power, but they did not deliver for the American people."
To avoid a repeat of 2010—when Republicans won control of the House and gained seats in the Senate, ending a brief period of unified Democratic control during the Obama presidency—Sanders said the new Congress must urgently pursue "an aggressive agenda that says we understand that millions of people... are lining up in their cars in order to get emergency food, people can't pay their medical bills, people are going deeper and deeper into debt, people are facing eviction."
"We have to act and act now," Sanders said, arguing that Democrats must be "bold in a way that we have not seen since FDR in the 1930s."
"The first order of business, by the way," the Vermont senator continued, "is to pass an emergency Covid-19 bill which, among many other things, says to working-class Americans, 'We know you're in pain, and we're gonna get you a $2,000 check... We are on your side.'"
Sanders' remarks came days after Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff won their runoff races in Georgia, positioning Democrats to take control of the U.S. Senate by the narrowest possible margin.
The Democratic victories in Georgia were credited in part to a last-minute push for $2,000 direct payments in the days leading up to the pivotal runoffs, an effort led by Sanders and members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
While Senate Republicans ultimately blocked Sanders' attempt to force a vote on a House-passed bill that would have provided one-time $2,000 payments to most Americans, Warnock and Ossoff both embraced the checks on the campaign trail and slammed their GOP opponents for standing in the way of desperately needed relief. President-elect Joe Biden also backed the demand, promising that the election of Warnock and Ossoff would "put an end to the block in Washington on that $2,000 stimulus check."
Following the Democrats' victories, soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters Wednesday that "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."
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that "it's unclear how quickly Congress could actually vote on the checks. That depends on when the elections in Georgia are certified, which could be delayed by GOP challenges, making the timing uncertain."
The certification deadline for Georgia counties is January 15, and the state deadline is January 22—two days after Biden's inauguration.
"Additionally, it's not clear whether the House and Senate would vote on the checks as stand-alone legislation, or as part of a larger package that could also include items like state and local aid and an extension of unemployment benefits," the Post noted. "Congressional aides cautioned that discussions with the Biden team over how to proceed were in early stages."