Stimulus deal to provide relief for Georgians, though runoff candidates split on how much

COLUMBUS — All four U.S. Senate candidates in Georgia backed a $900 billion federal coronavirus package on Monday that would provide an economic bridge for millions of Georgians struggling to eke by during the pandemic.

But the proposal intensified a debate in Georgia’s all-important U.S. Senate runoffs over whether the injection of cash is coming too late — and is too little to keep the economy running until the job market rebounds.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris visited Columbus on Monday to campaign with Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, as Democrats pushed the message that if they win the Jan. 5 runoffs and flip control of the Senate, Congress will provide more generous benefits, including $1,200 direct stimulus checks rather than the $600 payments in the aid package.

Meanwhile, Republican U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue stumped in Atlanta’s suburbs and exurbs with Ivanka Trump as congressional negotiators edged closer to ending the months-long standoff over the coronavirus package aimed at reviving a slowing economy and insulating the most endangered industries and companies from sharper financial fallout.

Late Monday evening, the Republicans flew back to Washington and joined the overwhelming U.S. Senate vote approving the measure. Earlier, it passed the U.S. House by a broad margin, with the help of every member of Georgia’s delegation except two: Rep. Jody Hice, who objected to the cost, and Rep. Barry Loudermilk, who was recovering from a coronavirus infection.

At Harris’ drive-in rally in Columbus, Democrats honked their horns in applause when the California senator said she, too, would vote for the relief bill. And both Ossoff and Warnock said they support the package to get Georgians immediate relief, even as they criticized Republicans for not sweetening the pot.

Ossoff singled out Senate Republicans for not agreeing to heftier direct relief checks “while so many are struggling this holiday season,” adding that ”$600 won’t cover the rent or the bills that have piled up over months of inaction by Republicans in Congress.”

And Warnock offered his own sharp criticism, saying the direct payments are “not only out of touch but disrespectful” to struggling Georgians. At the rally, he encouraged voters who believe “health care is a human right” to support the Democratic campaigns.

In a joint statement, the two Republicans accused their rivals of “playing politics with Americans’ health and livelihoods by blocking additional relief for our families and small businesses” and praised the legislation they both planned to support as a measured compromise.

But both offered only brief mention of the pandemic during a rally in Milton with President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka. Perdue invoked the package of small business loans approved at the onset of the outbreak that he said “saved our small banks,” while his campaign panned Ossoff for criticizing the bill.

Ivanka Trump, on the other hand, emphasized the $3 trillion worth of COVID-related spending already approved by Congress as well as the new relief package.

“They’re actually headed back to Washington this afternoon to vote to get more money into the Paycheck Protection Program and support American small businesses,” she said.

There’s good reason why the two incumbents might have skirted talk about the stimulus bill on the trail: For the crowd of conservatives, voting on another major spending measure didn’t inspire much applause. The senators were showered with cheers, by contrast, when both promised to “fight” for the president, who continues to level unsubstantiated claims of election fraud.

Shane Spikes and Brian Crowe both rode to the Milton event on motorcycles, decked out in leather riding chaps and jackets as a part of a “Patriots Riding Club” that they founded last month. But neither was happy to hear about another COVID relief bill.

“People are hurting, so I think relief is necessary,” Crowe said. “But no one in the government should have the authority to decide which businesses are ‘essential.’ ”

Spikes said he sees the legislation as nothing more than a solution to the crisis that the government caused itself with its overreaction to the outbreak through a lockdown and stay-at-home orders.

But senior Republican strategists are also concerned that the ongoing standoff could energize Democrats. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell privately told fellow Republicans he worried the two Georgia incumbents are “getting hammered” over the stalemate.

It’s one reason why President-elect Joe Biden zeroed in on the coronavirus response last week during his visit to Georgia, directly tying his plan to contain the disease and revive the economy to the fate of Ossoff and Warnock.

It’s also a salient issue among Democrats at the grassroots level, who are pushing for more expansive relief. A dozen left-leaning local leaders, led by Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, wrote an open letter Monday to the Republican senators that the relief package is “incomplete and inadequate” without more robust aid to cash-strapped city and county governments.

“Our demand is simple, Senators: Do your job and fight for Georgia’s local governments to get the relief we need,” Johnson wrote. “Without it, Georgians already on the brink could face grave consequences, and the stakes are too high to delay any further.”

At a Democratic rally in Duluth over the weekend, Erendira Brumley fumed over the $600 direct check, which she said was unacceptable to Georgians stretching their finances to pay their bills.

“So many people are barely holding on — and the proposed relief doesn’t even cover a month of rent,” she said. “A small Band-Aid to make Congress members look good while they go on holiday break is insufficient.”